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Opinion | The Trump V.A.’s Racist Legacy

Meanwhile, according to internal agency documents and an AFGE official, an employee at the Dublin hospital faced a suspension after she was discovered co-hosting a podcast that propagates racist tropes and that has hosted white nationalist leaders including David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. (Local and national V.A. representatives did not respond to my written questions about the incidents.)

Similar complaints have emerged from veterans and employees of color across the V.A. system, from Massachusetts to Missouri.

Marcellus Shields, a former V.A. employee and the president of AFGE Local 342 in Wilmington, Del., compared the agency’s culture of intolerance to mold, calling it “unseen but everywhere.”

“It causes a lot of damage,” he said. “It’s deadly. And it needs to be cleaned up right away.”

In a written statement, a V.A. spokeswoman Christina Noel, who has recently left the agency, contended that the department is committed to “fair and equal treatment of all employees.” Ms. Noel turned back the criticism on AFGE. “Unlike AFGE, V.A. does not tolerate harassment or discrimination in any form,” she said after referencing accusations of sexual misconduct and other egregious behavior, including the use of racial slurs, by AFGE’s former president, J. David Cox. (Mr. Cox has previously denied the allegations.)

Putting aside his own misconduct, former President Donald Trump — who attempted to brand himself as one of the most pro-veteran presidents in American history and the best president for Black Americans since Lincoln — also allowed racism within the V.A. to fester.

Mr. Trump’s V.A. secretary, Robert Wilkie, appointed in 2018, was a former member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and once called Jefferson Davis a “martyr to ‘The Lost Cause.’” (While the Defense Department now plans to rename bases whose names honor Confederate leaders, Mr. Wilkie declined to take similar action at V.A. facilities, which commemorate controversial figures like Hunter Holmes McGuire, a Confederate doctor who advocated the forced sterilization of Black men.)

In addition to Mr. Wilkie — who served as an aide to the late segregationist Senator Jesse Helms — Mr. Trump’s V.A. leadership also included David Thomas, who, in 2018, had a portrait of the first grand wizard of the Klan hanging in his office. There was also John Ullyot, the former chief communications official who, according to a Washington Post report in 2018, had “sought to silence the agency’s chief diversity officer, who — in the aftermath of last year’s racially charged violence in Charlottesville — pushed for a forceful condemnation that was at odds with President Trump’s response.”

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