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Members of the Navajo Code Talkers, the famed U.S. Marines who developed unbreakable codes during World War II, watch the Veterans Day parade Nov. 11, 2009, in New York City. A recent study by the Veterans Affairs and the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics found many minority veterans aren’t aware of all the benefits available to them. and other services within the VA system is very good news,” said Barbara Ward, one of the contributors to the report. Ward is also the director of the VA’s Center for Minority Veterans (CMV) which was created in 1994 to advocate for minorities. “We certainly take credit for some of that because of the extensive outreach that our office conducts at a national level,” Ward said. “(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.” Implementing these outreach initiatives are the more than 300 minority veteran program coordinators stationed at VA hospitals, community clinics, regional claims offices and national cemeteries. MVPCs, as they are called, hail from a range of professions, including social workers, nurses and chaplains. The coordinators ultimately reach about a million veterans annually, half of whom are minorities, said Ward. They use tools such as mailings, social media, job fairs, town halls at VA medical centers, and even “virtual” town halls, where veterans can pose questions to an online forum for VA officials to answer. Ward’s office also coordinates outreach with veterans service organizations nationally. These include large groups like

NABVETS’ McKenzie and Sims made the the American Legion and the Veterans of same point regarding African-American Foreign Wars (VFW), as well as smaller vets. “It’s not welfare; it’s an entitlement,” minority organizations such as NABVETS McKenzie said. “It’s a promise from the and the American G.I Forum of the United country and the VA.” States, which focuses on the needs of Some of the reticence minority veterans Hispanic veterans and was founded feel in seeking VA benefits “boils down to in March 1948, a few months before trust,” added McKenzie. President Harry Truman desegregated the For veterans of his generation, he armed forces. pointed to the government’s deceit about The CMV further seeks to place employactions and motivations ees at minority events, such as regarding the Vietnam War, Native American pow wows to exposed in 1971 in the disseminate information. National so-called Pentagon Papers. Minority veteran groups Association for And, specifically for African are doing their part as well to Black Veterans Americans, he cited the increase awareness and break „ infamous Tuskegee Study, down cultural barriers to revealed by the media in 1972 seeking benefits. American G.I to be a decades-long study Phillip Gutierres, who Forum of the on black men with syphilis served in the Navy from 1978 United States who were not offered simple, to 1984, has spent decades curative antibiotic treatment around fellow Hispanic „ by the study’s researchers. veterans, some of whom are The CMV’s Ward mentioned reluctant to apply. Tuskegee as well in noting that “They felt veterans benefits there is a “distrust issue” when it comes to were more like charity or welfare, and minorities seeking both public and private most Hispanics don’t go for that; they services. stand on their own two feet,” said Not seeking help when it is available, Gutierres, who is the VA commissioner for or having bad experiences when doing so, the city of Austin, Texas, and commander could contribute to the disparities faced by of the American G.I. Forum’s Central Texas minority veterans when their active duty region. “We have to constantly remind ends. them that’s not what it is.”

The CMV study reported on these challenges. It found that minority veterans have a 44 percent higher chance of being unemployed than non-minority vets. And although high levels of homelessness affect the whole veteran population, minorities are hit harder, the report found. African Americans, compared with the rest of the minority population, were more than three times as likely than non-minority vets to have to resort to using shelters in 2014. Ward said that while the increasing benefit utilization trendline bodes well for the future, the work is far from done. “We need to make certain minority veterans not only know about their benefits, but they utilize them,” she said. Added McKenzie: “We need to locate those veterans that are having a hard time and get them back up again.” Sims is just such an example. Nearly half a century after his tour of duty, he listened to the advice of another friend, McKenzie, who serves as a veterans service officer. He convinced Sims that it is never too late to apply for disability benefits for his PTSD, which was never resolved. In 2005, Sims qualified for the benefits. “The VA owed him that,” said McKenzie. “He paid his dues; we paid our dues. And we’re still paying them.”

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