Five Legal Issues Facing African American Veterans

african american veterans

Veteran’s Day is Monday, November 12.  First established in 1919, the holiday gives Americans an opportunity to thank those who serve in the military.  Like other Americans, African Americans serve their nation with pride.  Currently, nearly 12 percent of all veterans are African American.    Experts predict that the number of Black veterans will jump as America’s population diversifies.  As the number of African American veterans grows, they will face the issues that all veterans face, as well as issues unique to Black service personnel.  Here are five common legal issues that African American veterans may face as they return to civilian life.

African American Veterans and Benefits

During World War II, the government recognized that those who sacrificed their lives for their nation deserved something tangible when they returned home.  So, the government created a system of medical, educational, and financial benefits for veterans.  These benefits, commonly known as the “G.I. Bill,” still exist today.

While veterans of all races can take advantage of these benefits, veterans of color often miss out on their benefits.  According to a Veteran’s Administration (VA) report, Asian American, Latino, Native American, and African American veterans are less likely to understand the benefits that are available to them.  As such, they are less likely to apply for or take advantage of the benefits that they have earned for their service.

Even when veterans apply for benefits, the process is not guaranteed.  The VA limits medical care to veterans who are harmed under specific conditions.  Moreover, some financial benefits are limited to those who have been honorably discharged.  There are procedures that allow veterans to amend their discharge status or appeal a denial of benefits.  A lawyer may be helpful in the application or appeals processes.

African American Veterans and Employment

African Americans face rampant employment discrimination.  Unfortunately, despite their sacrifices, many employers discriminate against veterans when they return home.  Some researchers believe that civilian employers simply do not understand veteran’s struggles.  Alternatively, they wrongly assume that all veterans are broken, dysfunctional, or rigid.   Race makes the situation worse. The VA found that nearly 45 of African American veterans had experienced job discrimination, a rate far higher than their white peers.  So, African American veterans face both racial discrimination and discrimination based on their veteran status.

Luckily, federal law prohibits discrimination against veterans. Even better, many public and private employers give veterans priority consideration for jobs.   But despite these laws and programs, many veterans find themselves unemployed or underemployed.  Some employers couch their discrimination in the fact that a veteran received an other-than-honorable discharge.  Though this practice is illegal, many employers continue to engage in the practice.  An attorney can help a veteran prove discrimination in court.

African American Veterans and Housing

For African American veterans, housing is an issue with both historic and current significance.  Historically, after World War II, redlining and other racist practices limited Black veterans to housing in segregated areas.  This tactic kept Black families from earning wealth through home ownership.  Currently, homelessness is a major issue for veterans.  Sadly, African American veterans are more likely to be homeless.  Latino and African American veterans comprise 45 percent of homeless vets, despite being less 15 percent of the total veteran population.  Clearly, housing is a major key to making civilian life better for all veterans.

There are several laws that protect veterans in the housing market.  On the federal level, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against renters or buyers based on their veteran status.  Many states and cities have passed similar laws.  But these laws have not been enough to completely end discrimination against veterans.  In fact, earlier this year, officials in  Washington State found that many landlords in their state had discriminated against veterans.  Therefore, veterans may need to fight for their right to fair housing.

African American Veterans and Disability

Veterans may suffer either physical or mental injuries in the course of duty.  Research shows that African American veterans’ physical disabilities are often rated as less severe than those of white veterans.  The rating of the injury is often tied to benefits.  Moreover, several studies show that African American veterans are more likely to suffer from mental disabilities connected to service, including Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).  Because PTSD often leads to less-than-honorable discharges and other difficulties in post-military life, African American veterans and their families should be aware of disability laws.

Disability law is key for veterans.  As stated, a less-than-honorable discharge can affect a veteran’s eligibility for many benefits.  The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects veterans, but applies only to those who have been honorably discharged.  But another law is helpful.  The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the are the key federal laws on the issue.   This law prohibits employers from discriminating against anyone – including veterans – with a disability of any sort.  The employer must not discriminate as long as the applicant can perform the job as written or with reasonable accommodations.  Many states have passed similar laws.

African American Veterans and Civil Suits

When a veteran receives a deployment order, he must put his life on hold to serve.  But if a veteran is sued before deployment, is the suit put on hold as well?  Luckily, the answer is yes.

The Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA) gives veterans a reprieve from their financial and legal obligations while they serve.  The law allows judges to stay lawsuits while the serviceperson serves.  Moreover, matters such as foreclosures may be paused. Financially, veterans benefit from caps on interest and the ability to end leases and other obligations.  Creditor, banks, and landlords must comply with these measures.

Veterans risk their lives to protect the nation they love.  Though many laws exist to protect them, unscrupulous or uninformed people violate these laws every day.  If you are a veteran in need of legal help, turn to The African American Attorney Network.  The Network can connect you to an attorney who knows the legal issues facing veterans and the unique struggles faced by African American veterans.