Calvin Shields, NABVETS Veterans Service Officer, has 40 years of experience serving veterans. (Courtesy of NABVETS)
Calvin Shields, NABVETS Veterans Service Officer, has 40 years of experience serving veterans. (Courtesy of NABVETS)

Calvin Shields has been a service officer for 40 years at the National Association for Black Veterans, where he’s helped to address the unmet needs of minority and economically disadvantage veterans.

Shields and others have drawn attention to the plight of veterans who have been victims of Agent Orange, post-traumatic stress disorder and less-than-honorable discharges.

With a chapter in Northwest Washington, D.C., NABVETS has also called for amnesty for Vietnam era veterans and assistance for homelessness and a myriad of other concerns.

Just before Veterans Day, the organization has again stepped up to offer assistance, this time in centralized claim reviews.

“In order to provide the best-quality service available, NABVETS has centralized the claim review and quality assurance function into one location,” Shields said in a news release. “All claims (by veterans) will be reviewed by our highest-trained experts.”

It is just one function of the many provided by several organizations committed to African-American veterans who might otherwise be forgotten.

Black Veterans of America, another minority organization that serves African-American military service men and women, has also put out a Veterans Day call for those who may have been wounded, injured or become ill while on active duty.

“A monthly cash benefit is available if you are a wartime veteran with limited income and a permanent and total disability,” officials at the Minneapolis-based group said in a statement alerting veterans to their service.

“The disability does not have to be service-connected, but it cannot be the result of your willful misconduct.”

The good news is that although African-Americans tend to experience worse health outcomes than whites, there’s one major exception based on a recent analysis of mortality risk among patients belonging to the U.S. Veterans Health Administration.

Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study compared key health outcomes of African-American and White veterans.

Many studies have shown that African Americans have a greater risk of heart disease and death as compared with whites.

While there’s no single explanation for health disparities, access to health care is plays a major role. African-Americans are more likely to face barriers to health care, and their health suffers as a result, according to the American College of Cardiology.

To learn more about the relationship between outcomes and access to care, researchers analyzed health records of more than 3 million patients receiving care from the U.S. Veterans Health Administration. The Veterans Health Administration is an integrated health care system with more than 1,700 sites that serve nearly 9 million veterans each year.

Using data from this large health system, researchers hoped to learn more about outcomes in African-Americans and Whites by eliminating differences in access to care.

In total, researchers analyzed health records of nearly 550,000 African-American and 2.5 million white patients in the Veterans Health Administration.

Since African-Americans with kidney disease tend to have better outcomes than their White counterparts, researchers only included patients free of kidney disease in their study.

After analysis, researchers found that African-American veterans had a 37 percent lower risk of heart disease and 24 percent lower risk of death than White veterans.

In comparison, analysis of the general U.S. population shows that African-Americans have 42 percent higher risk of death than Whites.

So, what do these results mean?

“It is widely accepted that African-Americans have higher mortality and worse cardiovascular outcomes in the general population. A large part of this is attributable to socioeconomic deprivation, which includes, among others, lack of obtaining needed health care,” Csaba Kovesdy, the director of the Clinical Outcomes and Clinical Trials Program in Nephrology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, told CBS News.

“Our findings suggest that a health care system without barriers to access, like the VA system, could dramatically improve health outcomes in minorities.”

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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