Historic Black Veterans Reparations Case Moves Forward After Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss

Written by

Richard Brookshire


April 1, 2024

Court rejects U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs argument that it is immune from a lawsuit by Black veterans who allege — since World War II — that application for and awarding of benefits is racially discriminatory. Hundreds of billions in economic loss to Black veterans at issue in this case.

New Haven, CT — On Friday, March 29th, a Federal District Court Judge in Connecticut issued an important decision (1) allowing a lawsuit, Monk v. United States (2), to proceed against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) for racial discrimination against Black veterans in housing, education and disability benefits since the inception of the G.I. Bill following World War II. The decision marks a pivotal moment in the fight against racial discrimination within VA and the broader movement for reparations for Black Americans. 

Conley Monk Jr. served his country in two tours as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam, resulting in crippling PTSD and exposure to Agent Orange, but was repeatedly denied access to veterans housing, education and disability benefits he was entitled to. In 1971, shortly after returning from Vietnam, he was denied unemployment insurance following separation from the military. 1976, he was denied veterans education benefits. In 1981, he was denied access to veterans disability benefits for PTSD. In 1983, he was denied access to a veterans home loan. Following a stroke in 2010, he made another attempt to apply for veterans disability benefits and was denied. He applied again in 2012 and was denied. Over 40 years of obstruction to the veterans benefits he had earned. Highlighting the systemic bias in the system, Mr. Monk’s father faced similar challenges in accessing veterans’ benefits in the decades following his service in World War II.

Judge Stefan R. Underhill rejected the government’s argument that the court lacked the power to hear the case, brought by Conley Monk Jr., the estate of his late father and the National Veterans Council for Legal Redress (NVCLR). The court found the allegations of systemic racial discrimination and the resulting “dignitary, emotional and psychological harm,” were sufficient for the case to proceed. The court’s decision makes Monk v. United States an important and landmark ruling as one of the few federal reparations cases to survive a motion to dismiss in U.S. history.

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,” said Richard Brookshire, CEO & Co-Founder of Black Veterans Project. “Since its inception, the Department of Veterans Affairs has designed and implemented its benefits programs to reinforce our nation’s racial caste system – neglecting its moral, ethical and legal responsibility to intervene to ensure racism was not a barrier to accessing home loans, education benefits and disability compensation. The consequence has been dire, resulting in hundreds of billions in economic loss to Black veterans and their families since World War II. The court’s ruling denying VA’s motion to dismiss is a historic step toward justice. Black Veterans Project stands in solidarity with Mr. Monk and looks forward to working collaboratively to make reparations real in our lifetime.” 

“This entire endeavor was born from the imagination and strategic vision of the Black Veterans Project,” said Michael Wishnie, William O. Douglas Clinical Professor of Law and Director, Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, “who joined forces with Conley Monk and NVCLR to make this vision a reality. It was through BVP’s efforts that VA was forced, for the first time, to disclose documents confirming that VA knowingly maintained a racially discriminatory benefits system for years. Without BVP’s commitment and creative insight, VA would not be held accountable for the harm it caused.”

“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,” said Garry Monk, Executive Director, National Veterans Council for Legal Redress. “Today is an important moment in the struggle for justice for Black veterans, whose service and sacrifice VA has ignored for generations.”

“Mr. Monk’s story mirrors the struggles of millions of Black veterans who have faced institutional barriers to accessing the benefits they are rightfully owed. Decades of exclusionary government practices have contributed to generational economic disparities for Black veterans and their families,” said Daniele Anderson, Co-Founder, Black Veterans Project. “I hope the advancement of Monk v. United States spurs a broader societal recognition of the systemic barriers that have impeded Black veterans' from accessing tools to build wealth for themselves and their families. We stand with Mr. Monk, knowing that every step forward in this legal battle moves us beyond platitudes honoring the sacrifice of Black Veterans to restorative measures that rectify these injustices.”

“The decision to allow the Monk case to proceed is a seminal moment in American history. The District Court of Connecticut, in deciding to adjudicate Mr. Monk’s claims on the merits, legitimized one of many storied harms levied on African Americans,” said Daniel Walker, Black Veterans Project Board of Directors. “The disparate treatment of Black veterans can no longer be waived away as conjecture or purely anecdotal; it is now a matter of statistical fact and judicial debate. Monk v. United States represents a step toward justice for all veterans and a leap forward in redressing past harms suffered by African Americans at the hands of racially discriminatory systems. Black Veterans Project is honored to serve in furtherance of that cause.”

Black Veterans Project is a non-partisan 501(c)3 nonprofit organization advancing research-informed storytelling, impact litigation and public advocacy to eliminate racial inequities in and out of uniform. 

Conley Monk Jr. and NVCLR are represented in Monk v. United States by the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization, and Edelson PC.


Richard Brookshire, CEO
Black Veterans Project

Garry Monk, Executive Director
National Veterans Council for Legal Redress

Raillan Brooks, Law Student Intern
Veterans Legal Services Clinic, Yale Law School

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