With social justice being a major topic of discussion for the past few months, Bill Wetmore of the American Federation of Government Employees came on America’s Work Force Radio Podcast to discuss issues with racism in the Department of Veterans Affairs on Aug. 19.
A seasoned member of the organized labor community, Wetmore is an Executive Vice President of the National V.A. Council #53.
AWF host, Ed “Flash” Ferenc introduced a study where 80 percent of V.A. staff members said racism is a problem within the department. Wetmore agreed with this and said he has seen many cases of racism within the V.A.
He said many of the cases were Black veterans not being diagnosed with illnesses that qualify for compensation, when white veterans with similar symptoms were diagnosed with illnesses that qualify for compensation, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
V.A. staff faces racism
Wetmore then moved into instances of racism faced by staff members.
He recalled a judicial supervisor who eventually was not provided any Black attorneys to oversee. The supervisor was well known for firing Black male attorneys within their first year of employment. She was also known to fire female attorneys who did not dress to her liking.
He also lamented Secretary Wilkie, who is the current Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Wetmore said Wilkie has used the Accountability Act to go after low-wage and typically minority V.A. employees. Wetmore added that many of these employees are also veterans.
Moving up as a minority in the V.A.
Next, Wetmore discussed the upward mobility within the V.A. He said for minorities, upward mobility is basically nonexistent. Despite being a sizable percentage of the V.A. workforce, minorities are rarely seen in supervisory or managerial positions.
Finally, Wetmore said the culture of racial bias within the V.A. needs to stop and the Department needs to get with the times.