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Opening Statement of Hon. Michael H. Michaud, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Health

Good morning.  I would like to thank everyone for attending this important hearing today.    

The purpose of today’s hearing is to examine how changes in patient demographics present unique challenges for VA in providing safe environments for all veterans treated in VA facilities. 

In 2008, I requested that GAO report on women veterans’ services, such as research on the unique physical and mental health treatment needs of female veterans, how VA is addressing the needs of women veterans, what health care services offered by VA are tailored to women veterans, and what barriers may prevent female veterans from accessing VA health care services. 

In July 2009, this Subcommittee held a hearing on the findings of the report.  During the conduct of this report, GAO was made aware of safety issues involving women veterans and sexual assault in some VA facilities. 

Subsequent to that report, then Full Committee Chairman, Mr. Filner, submitted a request for GAO to look further into sexual assault incidents.

We know that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have seen the unprecedented call up of the National Guard and Reserve components. 

Today, women serve in the Guard and Reserve at a rate of over 17 percent which is 3 percent higher than that of the active duty military. 

VA recently reported that within 10 years, women are expected to become 10 percent of VA’s patient population. 

However, the VA health care system was built to accommodate the war related illnesses and injuries of male veterans. 

As women are serving in combat conditions alongside their male counterparts, it is important that the Department embrace and recognize the needs of all veterans, both men and women alike.

In the 110th and 111th Congresses, this Committee held a series of hearings to examine the needs of women veterans. 

The veterans who testified shared stories of feeling unwelcomed, alienated, and disrespected in some VA medical centers so that they are now reluctant to pursue the benefits and services that they have earned with their service to our country. 

Women veterans should not have to worry about being subject to “cat calls” upon entering a facility, and they certainly should not have to worry about falling victim to sexual assault while receiving care.

While sexual assault is often considered an issue only affecting women, in fact, both men and women suffer sexual assaults.  

Further, victims may be assaulted by perpetrators of the same or of the opposite sex. 

Like other types of trauma, sexual trauma can leave lasting scars upon the physical and mental health of its victims. 

As Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recently uncovered, many of the nearly 300 sexual assault incidents reported to the VA police since 2007 were not reported to VA leadership.

Incidents like these simply need not happen.

When policies and procedures are not in place -- or worse-- not followed, we fall far short of our national commitment to provide the utmost level of care possible.

Thank you to our panelists for appearing today. 

I am committed to working with you to ensure that safeguards are in place so that no veteran, male or female, falls victim to sexual assault while under VA care.

Madam Chair, I yield back.