October 01, 2020

At Warren and Schatz Request, Independent Watchdog Agrees to Review of Systemic Racism Against Employees and Veterans in the Department of Veterans Affairs

Response from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) here

Senators' initial request to GAO here 

Washington, DC - At the request of United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i), Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed to conduct an independent audit of the culture, policies, and practices of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to determine the extent to which systemic racism impacts employees, services, and care at the VA. The audit will include whether VA employees and veterans in the benefits offices, medical centers, and other facilities under its jurisdiction experience racial discrimination in the workplace.

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 (AFGE), which represents more than 270,000 of VA's nearly 400,000 employees, revealing 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," said Senator Warren. "The VA is the second biggest agency in our entire federal government and it's crucial that we root out systemic racism at the agency and all institutions."

"It's unacceptable that veterans who put their lives on the line are experiencing discrimination and bias at the VA. This investigation is a good first step toward rooting out systemic racism and making sure we treat our veterans with the dignity and respect they deserve," said Senator Schatz.

"Reports that racism is a serious problem at VA are especially concerning and demand rigorous scrutiny as our country works to confront systemic racism across our institutions ... Racism and racial discrimination at VA must be taken seriously, and the steps to address it must be robust and enduring," wrote the senators in their request

Senators 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. 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.