DEI Hits the VA: Biden's Veterans Affairs Department Offers Race-Based Training Programs That Exclude White Vets

'Equity' means realizing 'treating everybody the same might not be enough,' VA official Shawn Liu says

May 13, 2024

President Joe Biden's Department of Veterans Affairs is offering race-based training programs and workshops that exclude white veterans—programs that one legal expert says are "of dubious constitutionality and legality."

The programs are taking place in at least four states, a Washington Free Beacon review of online offerings found.

In Battle Creek, Mich., for example, the VA offers a "BIPOC Support Group," an "8-week curriculum designed to provide support for Veterans that identify as people of color/BIPOC, or as multiracial or biracial," according to a program description. The Battle Creek VA also offers a "Race-Based Stress/Trauma and Empowerment" program, a "weekly group, tailored to our Veterans of color, to address race-based stress and trauma in a safe and validating environment."

In Long Beach, Calif., the VA also offers a "Race-Based Stress/Trauma Empowerment Group," which it says is for "Veterans who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and who are interested in addressing issues of race-based stress, trauma, resilience, and empowerment."  A similar program in Palo Alto, Calif., invites "Women Veterans of color" to join a "10-week group to explore [the] impact of racism on your well-being."

In Minneapolis, meanwhile, a VA-sponsored "Black Veterans peer support group" welcomes "all Veterans who self-identify as Black" to learn "skills that help protect against the negative impact of racial stress and trauma by increasing feelings of belongingness, connectedness to racial/ethnic identity and empowerment." And the VA's Central Ohio Health Care System advertises a "Minority Stress & Empowerment" group, an eight-week series "open to Black, Indigenous and all Veterans of color who are interested in addressing race-based stress and trauma."

Under Biden, the federal government has made "equity" a guiding principle thanks to a June 2021 executive order instructing agencies to beef up their diversity programming. "Such training programs," the order said, "should enable Federal employees, managers, and leaders to have knowledge of systemic and institutional racism and bias" as well as an "increased understanding of implicit and unconscious bias."

In other settings, however, race-based offerings have landed private entities in hot water. Last year, amid legal scrutiny, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer quietly amended a fellowship program to remove a provision that barred whites and Asians from applying. Now, University of San Diego law professor and U.S. Commission on Civil Rights member Gail Heriot is expressing similar concern over the VA's programs.

"It seems like every time you turn around there's another race-exclusive government program of dubious constitutionality and legality,"  Heriot told the Free Beacon. "Race exclusivity should raise red flags. Yet for the past four years, we've been seeing more and more of this kind of thing."

The VA did not respond to a request for comment.

Agency officials have discussed their "equity" offerings on the VA's Ending Veteran Homelessness podcast. Communications official Shawn Liu said the department began "a lot of our racial equity work" in the spring of 2021, around when Biden issued his executive order on diversity. He said the race-based offerings prompted internal pushback, which he dismissed, arguing that "treating everybody the same might not be enough."

"I remember early on, I want to say spring 2021, especially when we were starting to launch a lot of our racial equity work within the Homeless Programs Office, that was a pretty common bit of feedback," Liu said during a February podcast episode. "I would probably also categorize it as a little bit of criticism, right? Which was very well meaning, you know, dedicated staff who were grappling with this idea that the values that were instilled in them were you treat everybody the same, right? That discrimination is bad and you treat everybody the same. And if you treat everybody the same, that's the morally righteous thing to do."

"And those folks who had that feedback … you could see in like real time," Liu went on, "they were kind of grappling with that concept because in many ways what we're talking about today is, number one, providing tailored different solutions for different things, but also this understanding that because people are situated in society differently, they come from different barriers, they come from different challenges."

"Like treating everybody the same might not be enough for some," Liu said.

Shawn Liu

VA Veteran Justice Programs national training director Matthew Stimmel, who was also on the podcast, agreed.

"I think we can treat all veterans the same, and we should in terms of the amount of respect and dignity and compassion that we show them," he said. "But that doesn't mean we have to just blanketly offer the same exact services in the same exact way to everyone, as a matter of fairness."

Stimmel also serves as an assistant professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Both Liu and Stimmel forwarded Free Beacon requests for comment to the VA's public affairs office, which didn't respond.

The VA has a history of implementing left-wing cultural initiatives under Biden.

In 2021, internal agency training included the "genderbread" diagram, which is also featured in some elementary school curricula. The diagram points to the brain, heart, and pelvic area of a gingerbread "person" to distinguish "gender identity," "sexual orientation," and "biological sex," respectively. The full body of the gingerbread "person" represents its "gender expression," the diagram says.