Pittsburgh VA accused of racial bias in awarding benefits

Military veterans in the Pittsburgh area are supposed to be entitled to Veterans Administration benefits for injuries sustained in the service regardless of race or gender. But many African-American veterans say that the Pittsburgh VA historically has not treat them the same as their white counterparts when it comes to approval for veterans' benefits and treatment of conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.

The military's history of mistreating black Vietnam War veterans goes back to the days of that war. A 1990 study released by the VA found that black and Hispanic veterans were more likely to suffer from PTSD that whites because they were more likely to have been assigned to ground units and seen combat.

When they got home, many black PTSD suffers had their conditions misdiagnosed as either substance abuse or sociopathic tendencies. When they did get PTSD treatment, it was less effective than for white veterans; many black veterans quit treatment early.

Many others with PTSD or other injuries had their claims rejected as they returned home in the 1960s and '70s. Some veterans, like a 67-year-old Penn Hills man who hurt his knee and back in Vietnam, tried again decades later.

Unfortunately, his appeal, like most others, are caught in the years-long backlog the Pittsburgh VA is experiencing, similarly to VAs around the country. Frustrated, the veteran says that the VA was a "racist institution" for many years. Though it may no longer discriminate to the same extent, the man believes that the VA is hoping that he and other minorities who were unjustly denied benefits will pass away before the agency gets to their appeals.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Black vets accuse VA of unfair treatment," Carl Prine, May 26, 2013

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