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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

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Celestino Almeda, 100, speaks Oct. 25 during a ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Filipino veterans of World War II at the U.S. Capitol. MANUEL BALCE CENETA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

now recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder. Friends kept suggesting he return to the VA regarding his mental health, in addition to his physical health, but Sims’ experiences with the VA left him feeling marginalized and demoralized. He had heard similar stories from his fellow African-American veterans, aligning with the broader discrimination they routinely faced from society. Hoping to help other veterans understand and obtain the benefits to which they were entitled for their service to their country, Sims co-founded a group in 1969 that today is known as the National Association for Black Veterans (NABVETS). Through NABVETS and other organizations, Sims has worked with veterans for nearly 50 years. Although the VA has improved since the late 1960s, Sims said he has never stopped hearing and seeing firsthand the struggles that minority veterans encounter — including

rude interactions with staff and denials of seemingly open-and-shut disability claims. “We constantly are up against the wall with the VA in terms of trying to prove our case,” said Sims. “It’s gotten better,” said Danny McKenzie, a Vietnam veteran, NABVETS member and a national service officer at the Center for Veterans Issues (cvivet.org), also based in Milwaukee. “But we still got a long ways to go.” Both of those sentiments are supported in a recent study conducted by Veterans Affairs and the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics. The “Minority Veterans Report,” released in March found that black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander or Native American veterans generally have low awareness of which benefits are available to them. They also face issues including homelessness, unemployment and chronic diseases, following military service at a higher rate than their white counterparts.

“(We’re) trying to make sure minority veterans understand what the benefits and services are, and then help facilitate getting them to the right place and right time when they need assistance.” — Barbara Ward, director of the VA’s Center for Minority Veterans

According to the report, almost 23 percent, or about 5 million out of a total 22 million, of veterans in the U.S. were minorities in 2014, the last year studied. Based on population and enlistment trends, the number of minority veterans is expected to rise by 36 percent by 2043, and continue to increase. At 52 percent, African Americans made up the largest group of minority veterans in 2014. Latinos comprise the second largest minority veterans group, at 31 percent of the minority population.

A positive finding is that between 2005 and 2014, the number of minority veterans enrolled in VA health care rose from 1.4 million to 2 million, a 43 percent increase that meant nearly half (46 percent) of all minority veterans were enrolled in VA health care in 2014. While non-minority veteran rates also rose during that time, the growth was significantly slower, just 23.9 percent for the same time frame. “The increase in utilization of one benefit CO N T I N U E D

Profile for STUDIO Gannett

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017  

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017