In May 2014, when retired U.S. Army Medical Service Corps Officer Nuwanna Franklin moved on from the Department of Defense to an administrative position at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Dublin, Ga., she envisioned a few years of rewarding work, and then retirement.
In her new role, Ms. Franklin received formal V.A. plaudits, thank-you notes from patients and other signs of gratitude from employees she advocated for as part of her role in the union. Yet she says the workplace was plagued by a pernicious and oppressive culture of prejudice — an environment in which she felt “you can’t speak up if you’re Black.”
A recent nationwide survey taken by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National VA Council, the union that represents 265,000 V.A. employees, found that 76 percent of respondents said they’d “experienced racially charged actions” on the job at the V.A.
National V.A. firing and promotion figures, obtained by AFGE through a recent public records request, suggests a disproportionate number of firings among staff members of color. This data also indicates that white workers are almost twice as likely as their Black counterparts to be chosen for management positions.
“It used to be that if you survived DOD you could survive anywhere,” Ms. Franklin said, speaking of a Black person’s ability to navigate the Defense Department’s bureaucracy. “But the institutionalized and overt racism here is mind boggling.”