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California’s First Black Veterans Summit
By Xavier Higgs, Sentinel Contributing Writer,
Published February 27, 2014

Will Gunn, Peter Gravett and Bobby McDonald joined forces at California’s first black veteran’s summit


Will Gunn, General Counsel US Department of Veterans Affairs, said Black Americans have always fought on behalf of their country. “They’ve always been there for the United States even when the United States wasn’t there for us.”

He joined Peter Gravett, secretary California Department of Veterans Affairs to headline California’s first Black Veterans Summit co-hosted by the California Department of Veterans Affairs and the Black Chamber of Commerce of Orange County.

The goals of the program were to provide California’s 1.8 million veterans information to improve outreach to inform them of their benefits. 

More than 300 participants gathered from throughout the state at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles for the first time event.

Gravett was inspired by the attendance and the information being provided through open and frank discussions between panelists and veterans, he said. Discussions included topics on housing, healthcare, and education.

“So often African American veterans don’t receive the information needed to make decisions on their life,” said Gravett.

The summit was created to inform black vets about the benefits they have earned through their military service.

While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) reputation for poor service and inefficiency is well-known the bureaucratic complexity is part of the reason.

According to Gun, any claim more than 120 days is considered backlog.

“No claim should take more than 120 days,” he said.

During his keynote speech, Gunn said the VA’s goal is to have eradicated the backlog by 2015. Also Eric K. Shinseki secretary of Veterans Affairs, has a goal to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.

The summit was an opportunity for black veterans to not only listen to panels of experts but to spend some one-on-one time with senior state and federal veterans affairs officials.

Captain Sonya Moore, has served in the California National Guard for 16 years. She declares many active duty members “do not consider what the VA has to offer unless they receive an injury.”

However, Cpt. Moore considers the summit a step in the right direction.

The importance of the summit could not be overstated. African American veterans have a higher incidence of unemployment, homelessness, and incarceration that are major challenges.

“This event gave black veterans an awareness of the commitment by CalVet to help them,” says Bobby McDonald, president Black Chamber of Commerce of Orange County.

“Everybody walked away with something. They got energized. This was a rallying point today.”

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