VA Secretary addresses discrimination complaints at Kansas City VA Medical Center

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the first time, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie is publicly addressing the mounting complaints by current and former black workers at the Kansas City VA Medical Center.

The site is facing at least two lawsuits and a growing number racial complaints and allegations.

Some of those complaints include staff members reportedly making lynching jokes, black workers called racial slurs, and illegal personnel practices against black staff.

During his visit, Wilkie promising their voices will be heard, complaints of this kind will not be tolerated and cultural change throughout the agency.

“One charge of discrimination is too many, and I do think that we are on the proper road to correcting that and making sure that everyone feels welcome,”  Wilkie said. 

But this trip did not come without raising some questions about the true motives.

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver who represents the 5th Congressional District says he was not alerted about the unexpected trip at all.

’It’s a little disrespectful for the secretary to come into the 5th congressional district, and not even notify me. That’s generally the protocol, when you consider the issue.. which is issues regarding race, it would have been even more reason for him to notify me,” Cleaver said.

Cleaver says he has also received a number of complaints and is speaking with different organizations about the matter.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) spoke with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie following the Secretary’s in-person visit to the Kansas City VA Medical Center (KC VAMC). The purpose of the visit was to discuss discrimination allegations with staff members at KC VAMC.

“I appreciate the time and attention Secretary Wilkie dedicated to addressing ongoing complaints of alleged discrimination at the Kansas City VAMC,” Moran said. “I have been engaged on this issue since shortly after it was first reported publicly, sending an inquiry to the Secretary on March 6 requesting additional information on the complaints. Discrimination is unacceptable. I will continue to be engaged on eliminating discrimination by hosting a Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs round table on issues facing minority veterans this month to encourage further dialogue.”

Meanwhile, protesters say they will continue to have protests outside the hospital over unfair working conditions until they see change. 

A group of people were outside the site during Wilkie’s visit, hoping to make a statement.

“I heard first-hand from an employee who worked here for 30 years. There has to be a change,” said Amy Stock.

It started with about 20 current and former employees, with complaints about mistreatment and racial discrimination at the VA. That number has grown to about 50 since FOX4 first reported the allegations in March. 

FOX4 has submitted a federal open records act requests (FOIA) for information about complaints of racial discrimination at the medical center.

The VA has acknowledged receipt of the request. 

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