Audit to investigate claims of racism, discrimination at VA hospitals

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Government Accountability Office will investigate claims of systemic racism within the Department of Veterans Affairs, including at the VA hospital in Kansas City.

The audit comes at the request of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

According to a news release from Warren, the senators’ call for a review of the federal government’s second-largest agency follows the release of troubling findings from a national survey by the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 270,000 of VA’s nearly 400,000 employees.

That survey revealed that 78% of VA employees believe racism is a “moderate to serious problem” at the VA, 76% have experienced “racially charged actions,” and more than half (55%) have observed racial discrimination against veterans on the job. 

“The GAO agreeing to conduct an independent audit is a good first step towards confronting and addressing the staggering accounts of racism and discrimination reported by VA employees and veterans,” Warren said.

Warren and Schatz have asked the GAO to address a series of questions in its review, including what the available data reveal about the prevalence of racism and racial discrimination against VA employees and veterans under VA jurisdiction; what systems are used by VA to report, track, and manage allegations of racism; and the effectiveness of the VA’s current policies and practices in addressing alleged incidents of racism.

In response to the audit and other mounting concerns, Kansas City area civic leaders called a virtual emergency press conference Tuesday.

“Today, veterans all across the country are standing up, saying, ‘No way, no more,'” said Capt. Cole Knapper with the National Action Network. “Today veterans all across this country are standing up to say this institutionalized hatred and white supremacy in the VA system is corrosive to this nation’s very soul.”

The press conference was led by attorney Nimrod Chapel, who is currently representing close to 30 former and current employees of the Kansas City VA Medical Center.

For months, Kansas City’s VA hospital has been the focus of FOX4 investigations, detailing alleged misconduct, racial discrimination and mental and verbal abuse targeting Black employees.

The hospital also become home to weekly protests, attempting to raise awareness about issues inside.

“We started this protest June 15, and we said we are going to go every Monday in 2020, every week to make sure we are there so that those employees know that there are people on the outside that are willing to fight for them,” said Justice Gatson, founder of the Reale Justice Network.

The senators also asked the GAO to address the effectiveness of current training for VA employees in addressing racism and racial discrimination in the workplace; the impact of racism and racial discrimination on the department’s ability to retain, attract, and promote personnel of color; and the impact of racism and racial discrimination against veterans in VA facilities on their willingness to utilize VA services and the quality of care they receive. 

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