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Black Veterans Less Likely to Be Approved for VA Disability Claims

Veterans Affairs secretary vows to address the gap

spinner image a military service member gestures in frustration in a doctors office
SDI Productions/Getty Images

Black veterans’ disability benefit claims sent to the Department of Veterans Affairs have the lowest approval rating of any racial or ethnic group, a government report found.

The study, conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), analyzed VA data from 2010 to 2020 and found that initial disability claims submitted by Black veterans were denied 15 percent more often than those of their white counterparts, the largest ethnic group to have claims processed.

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“There’s no place for any disparities at VA,” said Secretary Denis McDonough at the agency’s monthly news briefing. “We’ll stop at nothing to make sure that we’re providing all veterans, including Black veterans, with the world-class care and benefits they deserve.”  

VA Disability Compensation Approval Rates for Initial Claims, by Race and Ethnicity (Fiscal Years 2010-2020)

spinner image a chart showing veterans disability claims by ethnic group

Additional findings and recommendations

Veterans from historically disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups accounted for almost 24 percent of the total veteran population in 2017, according to a 2020 VA report. By 2045, this group is projected to make up over 36 percent of living veterans.

The GAO compared approval ratings for 10 medical conditions the VA commonly evaluates across the 10 year period and found that Black male veterans were approved 3 to 22 percentage points less often than white males for nine of the 10 conditions, including tinnitus and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The report acknowledged that while the VA has studied racial disparities in its system, it hasn’t fully examined the root causes or potential broader issues, and thus doesn’t have all the information it needs to ensure fair decisions.

It recommended that the VA develop a plan to address its data limitations, identify root causes of its ethnic disparities and make a plan to address those causes.

In June, the VA created an Agency Equity Team and a Veterans Benefits Administration equity assurance office to help the agency improve outcomes for underserved veterans by identifying and eliminating disparities in health care and benefits.

“I recognize that this will require our determined effort every day to address what is too often a trust gap that we have with some of our vets,” McDonough said. “And I commit to our veterans who are watching, that we will actively get to the bottom of any disparities that exist at VA and we will eliminate them.”

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