Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Chairman, Full Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Thank you Madam Chairwoman for having me here today at this very important hearing. Upon reading GAO’s draft report, I was sickened by its findings – the prevalence of sexual assault incidents at VA facilities, the lack of accountability from VA leadership and the lack of safeguards in place for these victims.
As a co-requester of the GAO investigation (with Ranking Member Filner), I immediately contacted Secretary Shinseki and urged him to provide an immediate official response to GAO so the report could be made public and we could hold this hearing today. I thank the Secretary for complying with my request.
These findings are intolerable, so Ms. Buerkle and I decided to act immediately by introducing H.R. 2074 – the Veteran Sexual Assault Prevention Act. We intend to move this legislation expeditiously so that veterans are not undermined by the very system which is supposed to protect them.
In the past week, some have dismissed these allegations, comparing the size of the VA system and the number of allegations, to the private sector. Let me be very clear on this point – there is no comparison. Just one assault of this nature, one sexual predator, or one veteran’s rights being violated within the VA is one too many and is absolutely unacceptable. If we need to do more to protect our veterans and VA employees, we will.
Rape, in particular, has always been a hard charge to prosecute. And though we have made strides in getting victims to speak out, we know that for every rape that is reported, the many more are not. Therefore, we need to know how many victims have not spoken out and how we can reach to them so that not only is justice done, but that we can provide them with the proper care and support. Today, we expect to get answers to the followings questions:
- How widespread are assaults at VA facilities, because as found by GAO the lack of protocols at VA are not conducive to reporting sexual assault?
- How many cases have been prosecuted? How many are still pending?
- How many employees who allegedly perpetrated assaults are still working in VA?
- What has been done to protect patients from fellow patients?
- What is VA doing to ensure this never happens again in the future?
The safety and security of our veterans is paramount. We demand these answers so to assure fellow veterans and the public that VA facilities are safe havens for veterans, VA employees are safe, and no one’s rights are violated.
Again, thank you for the time, Madam Chairwoman. I yield back.