Groundbreaking reparations case for Black veterans may move forward after historic ruling

New Haven, Connecticut - A first-of-its-kind legal case seeking redress for decades of racial discrimination against Black veterans has passed a key hurdle in a critical moment for the US reparations movement.

Conley Monk Jr., plaintiff in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the US Department of Veterans Affairs, was repeatedly denied his due benefits after serving as a US Marine in Vietnam.
Conley Monk Jr., plaintiff in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against the US Department of Veterans Affairs, was repeatedly denied his due benefits after serving as a US Marine in Vietnam.  © Collage: Screenshots/Facebook/Black Veterans Project

Federal District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill in Connecticut on Friday ruled that the Monk v. United States lawsuit against the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may move forward.

The suit – brought by former US Marine Conley Monk Jr. and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress – accuses the VA of systematically denying Black vets' their due housing, education, and disability benefits since the adoption of the GI Bill in 1944.

Judge Underhill rejected the federal agency's motion to dismiss, deeming the case may proceed to the discovery phase.

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The decision marks a historic moment in the US reparations movement, which is seeing soaring popular support as well as fierce rightwing backlash.

"Monk v. United States is the most important legal case reckoning with the legacy of racial discrimination against Black veterans in our nation's history," Richard Brookshire, CEO and co-founder of the Black Veterans Project, said in a press release.

"The court’s ruling denying VA's motion to dismiss is a historic step toward justice," he continued. "Black Veterans Project stands in solidarity with Mr. Monk and looks forward to working collaboratively to make reparations real in our lifetime."

Conley Monk Jr.'s story uncovers the VA's legacy of racial discrimination

Conley Monk Jr.'s applications for veterans housing, education, and disability benefits were repeatedly rejected by the VA.
Conley Monk Jr.'s applications for veterans housing, education, and disability benefits were repeatedly rejected by the VA.  © Screenshot/Facebook/Black Veterans Project

Conley Monk Jr. was exposed to Agent Orange and suffered PTSD resulting from his experiences as a US Marine in Vietnam.

Despite his service, Monk was denied veterans unemployment insurance in 1971, education benefits in 1976, disability benefits in 1981, and a home loan in 1983. The pattern of rejection continued in 2010 and 2012, when Monk was denied veterans disability benefits after suffering a stroke.

These injustices were not new to the Marine vet, whose father faced similar obstacles after serving in World War II and is named in the lawsuit.

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Monk says he has since gathered data proving that Black vets have been routinely denied at higher rates than white vets.

The Black Veterans Project has found that Black vets today are still two times more likely to live in poverty as compared to white vets. When it comes to approvals of PTSD claims like Monk's, Black vets face up to a 29% disparity in denial rates.

This systemic racial discrimination has caused Monk "dignitary, emotional and psychological harm" for which the VA must provide redress, the lawsuit argues.

"My father fought at Normandy. My brother fought in Vietnam. My sister and another brother as well as myself served. And we will not stop fighting until VA treats all veterans equally," Garry Monk, Conley's brother and executive director of the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress, said after Friday's decision.

"Today is an important moment in the struggle for justice for Black veterans, whose service and sacrifice VA has ignored for generations."

Cover photo: Collage: Screenshots/Facebook/Black Veterans Project

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