On Veterans Day, Black Veterans Project Honors Yale Clinic

Mike Wishnie and students from the Veterans Legal Services Clinic holding a plaque
Accepting the award from the Black Veterans Project are, from left, Mike Wishnie ’93, William O. Douglas Clinical Professor of Law, with current and former clinic students Jared Hirschfield ’25, Mike Sullivan ’24, Jessica Angel ’25, and Adam Henderson ’23.

At its fifth anniversary celebration, the Black Veterans Project (BVP) honored Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2023.

BVP presented its Equity and Justice Award to the clinic for its work with the organization, most importantly in litigating a federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on behalf of BVP that for the first time forced the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to release data on the outcomes of VA benefits applications by race, a step the agency had resisted for years. The records covered 20 years and revealed persistent racial disparities, every year, with Black veterans significantly less likely than white veterans to receive compensation for their injuries in service. 

The data obtained by BVP furthered its effort with the clinic to develop and file litigation seeking redress for generations of Black veterans denied VA benefits. That suit, Monk v. United States, is named for Conley Monk Jr., a Vietnam veteran who for nearly 50 years was improperly denied education, housing, and disability compensation from the VA. Represented by the clinic in his individual case, in December 2020 the VA acknowledged that Monk was, in fact, eligible all along. 

In November 2022, building on the clinic’s work with BVP, Monk filed suit in federal court seeking redress for harm caused by long-standing racial disparities in the VA’s administration of veterans’ benefits programs. In June 2023, he amended his suit to add claims on behalf of the estate of his father, Conley Monk, Sr., a U.S. Army veteran of World War II who fought at Normandy and who was denied VA benefits upon his return in the 1940s, and on behalf of a proposed nationwide class of Black veterans.

Mike Wishnie speaks into a microphone with a screen behind him reading Equity Award 2023 Honoree Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic
Professor Mike Wishnie speaks at the awards ceremony with BVP Executive Director Richard Brookshire and YLS students looking on.

Several YLS students who work in the clinic and recent alumni attended the awards ceremony at NikeNYC, including Mike Sullivan ’24, a Marine veteran. 

“BVP’s advocacy has reshaped how this country, up to the highest levels of government, understands and confronts the historic discrimination that our nation’s Black veterans have faced for generations and continue to face today,” Sullivan said. “Thanks to BVP’s tireless work, there is a real promise of justice for these veterans.”

Sullivan added that it was humbling to follow in the footsteps of a long line of students who have worked in support of BVP’s advocacy.

Adam Henderson ’23 also attended the ceremony and said the award recognizes a great partnership between BVP and the clinic. 

“The award is indicative of all the hard work of so many people who have worked diligently toward the noble goal of achieving a more equitable system for Black veterans,” he said. “I am so proud the clinic received this award and I look forward to seeing what the partnership achieves together in the future.”

Deja Morehead ’25 added, “Students in the clinic have been diligently serving veterans for over a decade. We strive to ensure that veterans’ voices are heard and that their stories are told. I am grateful that the Black Veterans Project recognizes the clinic’s contributions toward equity and justice.”

“The Black Veterans Project is an extraordinary organization led by a visionary U.S. Army veteran and storyteller, Richard Brookshire,” said Michael J. Wishnie ’93, William O. Douglas Clinical Professor of Law and director of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “It is an enormous honor that BVP has entrusted the clinic with this vital work, seeking recognition and redress for generations of Black veterans who came home from their faithful service only to be denied a college education, a first home for their family, and compensation and care for their wounds. It has also been an immense joy to undertake this effort together with Richard and his team.”

The Black Veterans Project advances research and public education to address long-standing racial inequities across the military and veteran landscape. BVP uses research and storytelling to advance racial equity in and out of uniform and to lead a movement for racial inclusion and justice across the United States military while ensuring the welfare of all Black veterans who have served.  

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic, part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, represents veterans and veterans’ organizations in individual and national litigation and regulatory and legislative reform efforts.