Opening Statement of Hon. Ann Marie Buerkle, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Health
Good afternoon, this hearing will come to order.
Today, the VA’s Subcommittee on Health will address a very serious issue: the vulnerability and underreporting of sexual assault and other safety incidents at VA residential and inpatient psychiatric treatment facilities.
As a registered nurse and domestic violence counselor, I have seen firsthand the pervasive and damaging effects sexual assault can have on the lives of those who experience it.
Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a deeply troubling report entitled “VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Prevent Sexual Assaults and Other Safety Incidents.” GAO found that between January 2007 and July 2010, nearly 300 sexual assault incidents, including 67 alleged rapes, were reported to VA police. Many of these alleged crimes were not reported to VA leadership officials or the VA Office of the Inspector General, in direct violation of VA policy and federal regulations.
The findings of the GAO are disturbing for many reasons. Foremost, they represent a betrayal of trust by a system that was designed to treat our veterans at their most vulnerable time.
The gross failure of VA leadership to protect the safety and security of our veterans and VA staff and systematically report and respond to sexual assault and safety incidents is a contempt of justice. It also requires immediate action. This is not the way to run a health care system and it is certainly no way to treat the men and women who sacrificed so much on our Nation’s behalf.
Abuse like the kind GAO references in their report is repugnant and inexcusable in any corner of our society. But for it to occur in what should be an environment of healing for our wounded warriors is an affront to VA’s very mission.
So disturbed was I upon reading an early draft of GAO’s report, that I – along with Chairman Miller - introduced legislation to ensure a safer and more secure VA medical facilities. Our bill, H.R. 2074, the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act, would address the Department’s safety vulnerabilities, security problems, and oversight failures and create a fundamentally safer environment for our veterans and VA employees.
Never should a warrior in need take the brave step of getting help and be met with anything less than safe, supportive, and high quality care in an atmosphere of hope, health, and healing.
Let me assure each of you, that I and the other members of this Committee will remain committed to righting the many wrongs uncovered by the GAO.