African-American military service men and women provide outstanding service despite racism: Clyde Poag of Nashville.

By Clint Confehr

NASHVILLE, TN — A U.S. military veteran is coordinating a working group of nearly 20 veterans with examples of racism in the Veterans Administration.

Retired military medic Clyde Poag of Nashville chaired the Department of Veterans Affairs Readjustment Counseling Service’s African American Veterans Working Group at the Veterans Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. As such, Poag testified to a congressional committee about discrimination in the VA.

“The vet center program I was in has many complaints including one settled for $3 million” as a result of litigation, Poag said, citing Vasser vs McDonald. VA employee Vivian Vasser’s court record refers to an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint of discrimination for non-promotion, a prohibited personnel practice found by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General, Administrative Investigations Division. OIG found other prohibited practices. Similar cases are unresolved, Poag said.

Because of on-line zoom meetings last month, Poag said the working group is drafting “recommendations for what, hopefully, will be a new administration.”

Knowing time may be of the essence for veterans, Poag said current VA leaders might get a copy of what should be changed.

Recently, U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Leon Wilkie Jr. visited Nashville’s VA hospital, he said, to compliment staff on their good work. Wilkie, a Navy and Air Force reservist and apparent Civil War buff, declined to rehash issues — his Lost Cause speeches — raised during confirmation hearings. He’s spoken to Sons of Confederate Veterans. It’s headquartered in Columbia. In a time-limited telephone interview, he said he stopped paying dues to such an organization, didn’t name a group, and emphasized VA accomplishments in its on-going automation of VA communications to improve patient service.

Drafted while studying at Tennessee State University, Poag said he: has witnessed discrimination; recalls some Black vets were lynched in uniform during World War II; and resents it when people say veterans are fools for serving their country.

President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting diversity training aggravates members of the on-line working group. The order was challenged in October by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Urban League and the Fair Housing Alliance. The Associated Press reported the Veterans Department and other federal agencies cancelled diversity training that Trump criticized as “teaching people to hate our country.” Ironically, the order uses Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 order to ban discriminatory practices at companies with federal contracts, the AP explained.

On-line working group members are dismayed with, but not surprised by, results of a survey conducted by the American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE; 78% of some 1,500 VA workers say racism is a “moderate” to “serious” problem at the department, according to ConnectingVetsRadio.com. Working group members cite their own experiences.

Following AFGE’s report, “Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii asked that the Government Accountability Office investigate the ‘culture, policies and practices’ of VA to ‘determine the extent to which systemic racism’ affects workers and veterans,” ConnectingVetsRadio.com reported Oct. 1. GAO said the investigation “will likely begin in about six months.”

During one of eight annual conferences on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Poag reported to the Congressional Black Caucus at Howard University, that during their day-long conference Sept. 6, 2006, they would “discuss the implications for treatment … data has for the clinician engaged in the provision of appropriate mental health service to African American Veterans.”

Now, Poag coordinates the continuing conversation on-line with fellow veterans.

Born in East St. Louis, Poag graduated from Lincoln Senior High School. He earned his bachelors degree at Tennessee State University, and his masters degree from St. Louis University. He was coordinator of after-care services at the St.Clair County Mental Health Center. In 2014, Poag received a community service award from the St.Clair County NAACP for his service to veterans.

 

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...