US Commission on Civil Rights

“Civil Rights of Military Veterans and Service Members”

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Established by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding federal agency. The mission of the USCCR is to inform the development of national civil rights policy and enhance enforcement of federal civil rights laws. It pursues this mission by studying alleged deprivations of voting rights and alleged discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice. The commission plays a vital role in advancing civil rights through objective and comprehensive investigation, research, and analysis on issues of fundamental concern to the federal government and the public.

On May 13, 2013, the USCCR convened a briefing to explore the question “Is the federal government adequately protecting the civil rights of our veterans and servicemembers who have fought for our rights?” Three panels, with 4-5 witnesses and a Q&A, were held over the course of the day, a comprehensive transcript of which is available HERE.


Panel 1

The first panel included officials from federal agencies speaking about their enforcement of existing laws to protecting the civil rights of veterans and service members. Panelists included;

  1. Robert Jesse, deputy under secretary for health with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

  2. Kenan Torrans, deputy director in the Department of Labor (DoL) Veterans Education & Training Service (VETS)

  3. Sharon Alexander, special assistant to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Chairwoman

  4. Bryan Greene, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) general deputy assistant secretary for Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity (FHEO)

  5. Matt Boehmer, acting director of the Federal Voting and Assistance Program within the Department of Defense (DoD)


Panel 2

The second panel featured advocacy groups whose representatives discussed their programs’ assistance to veterans. Panelists included;

  1. Heather Ansley, Vice President of Veterans Policy for VetsFirst

  2. Albert Gonzales, National Commander with the American GI Forum

  3. Wendy McClinton, President and CEO of Black Veterans for Social Justice

  4. Danny Ingram, National President of American Veterans for Equal Rights


Panel 3

The third and final panel included veterans' advocates and other service members who spoke about how well the federal government was safeguarding their rights and providing needed benefits. Panelists included;

  1. Kamal Kalsi, United States Army major

  2. Sandra Strickland, Final Salute, Inc

  3. Elspeth Ritchie, chief medical officer with the DC Department of Mental Health

  4. Joseph Violante, National Legislative Director for Disabled American Veterans.