Most VA workers find racism 'moderate to serious problem' at facilities, survey finds

Most VA workers find racism 'moderate to serious problem' at facilities, survey finds
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A new union survey found that nearly 80 percent of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees thought racism was a problem at the VA, with more than half reporting that they have seen racial discrimination against veterans while working there.

In a nationwide union survey released Friday, 78 percent of workers reported that racism is a moderate to serious problem at the VA, according to data collected by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a federal union that represents hundreds of thousands of VA employees.

The data, provided by about 1,500 VA staff members, also found that 76 percent of union members surveyed said they had "experienced racially charged actions" while working at the U.S. government’s second-largest organization. Another 55 percent said they had witnessed racial discrimination against veterans while on the job.


“It’s shocking that in 2020, not only are we still having to contend with racism at an agency of the federal government, but that it’s getting worse” AFGE National President Everett Kelley told reporters on Friday. “These survey results are shocking and unacceptable and must be addressed.”

The VA on Friday pushed back on the survey, calling AFGE “one of the least credible authorities in this country regarding harassment, abuse and unfair treatment,” and the survey a “desperate attempt” by the union to deflect attention from a lawsuit against it and its former president J. David Cox. Cox, who was accused of sexually harassing and assaulting employees at AFGE, resigned in February but has denied the allegations.

“VA does not tolerate harassment or discrimination in any form,” VA spokesperson Christina Noel said in a statement to The Hill.

Noel added that the VA over the last two years “has boosted its rating from 17th to 6th among large federal agencies” in a “best places to work” survey.

The review comes in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody, which incited ongoing nationwide protests over racial injustice.

VA employees, meanwhile, detailed racism at department facilities that they say have occurred for years.

At the Kansas City VA Medical Center, for example, Navy veteran Charmayne Brown said she endured racial slurs and sexually suggestive language from superiors and was repeatedly passed up for promotions, facing backlash when she spoke out.

Brown has filed 18 complaints against the facility and is one of 50 employees — joined by the local American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP — who are demanding high-level VA officials intervene and Congress hold a hearing to look into the matter.