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Submission For The Record of Greg Jacob, Policy Director, Service Women’s Action Network

Madam Chairwoman and Distinguished Members:

Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) is a national organization that supports, defends, and empowers today’s servicewomen and women veterans of all eras. SWAN’s vision is to transform military culture by securing equal opportunity and the freedom to serve in uniform without threat of harassment, discrimination, intimidation or assault. SWAN also seeks to reform veterans’ services on a national scale to guarantee equal access to quality health care, benefits and resources for women veterans and their families.

SWAN fully supports H.R. 2074, a bill to require a comprehensive policy on reporting and tracking sexual assault incidents and other safety incidents that occur at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities.

SWAN has unique insight into the issue of sexual assault at the VA. Our National Peer Support Helpline receives numerous calls from veterans seeking help to remedy a negative experience at the VA. Some of these veterans, both men and women, tell us they were sexually harassed or sexually assaulted at VA facilities, reported it, and saw absolutely nothing done by the VA in response.

  • One client told us that while receiving an EKG, a male technician inappropriately touched her breasts during the procedure and repeatedly commented on her appearance. Afterward she did not know how to report the incident, left the hospital and has not returned to the VA since.
  • Another veteran was raped by her VA psychiatrist who was a retired Air Force officer. She reported this to the VA administration who told her they could do nothing based on her word alone. She then reported him to the authorities. Although he was not prosecuted, as a result of this veteran’s courage the psychiatrist had his treatment license suspended for 5 years.
  • Another caller who is employed by the VA as a police officer has apprehended a VA technician twice for sexually assaulting patients and turned him over to the VA administration both times. Yet this technician has not been charged with any crime, is still employed at the same VA and still regularly works with women patients. The officer is completely frustrated with a system that allows rapists to roam the hospitals free to prey on vulnerable patients.

H.R. 2074 would help to reform this system by requiring the VA develop a comprehensive program for reporting and handling sexual assault complaints, a first step in what SWAN hopes will become a rigorous system that keeps everyone who uses the VA safe and secure. An institution that provides for the healthcare needs of veterans ought to have an effective reporting system in place, particularly given the rampant levels of sexual assault and sexual harassment within the active duty military. The Department of Defense estimates that in 2010 alone, there were over 19,000 sexual assaults in the military[1], or 52 sexual assaults per day. It is negligent and dangerous to think that somehow those tens of thousands of survivors and perpetrators simply go away after being discharged. The numbers of sexual trauma survivors, both male and female, utilizing the VA is substantial. VA reports that in FY 2010 68,379 patients had at least one outpatient visit to a VHA facility that was for the treatment of a condition(s) related to Military Sexual Trauma. 61 percent (or 41,475) of those patients were women; 39 percent (or 26,904) were men.[2]

VA serves tens of thousands of high-risk veterans every year, and as an institution it must accept responsibility for the care and safety of all its patients from the time they walk onto the grounds of a VA facility until they walk off. The VA must not only do so by providing top notch medical treatment, but also superior administrative support as well. That means every VA run facility must develop a well publicized process in place to handle sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints, must have policies that enforce rules and discipline offenders, must train every member of their staff annually on sexual harassment and sexual assault response, must maintain a security presence that is attentive and effective, and must invest in an infrastructure that allows for a completely safe visit. Safety and care for VA patients should not start or stop at the front door.

The stakes are high. With the number of veterans eligible for care rising year after year and with the rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment crisis continuing unabated in the military, it is essential that the VA protect patients from sexual predators. If the VA fails to do this, veterans desperately in need of care will avoid seeking it out which will result in untold suffering, chronic mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness and in some cases suicide or death. Our nation’s veterans deserve better, and H.R. 2074 will help to ensure that.

Respectfully Submitted.


[1] Department of Defense, DMDC. 2011. “2010 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members.” Available: http://www.sapr.mil/media/pdf/research/DMDC_2010_WGRA_Overview_Report_of_Sexual_Assault.pdf

[2] Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Mental Health Services, Military Sexual Trauma Support Team. (2011).  Summary of Military Sexual Trauma-related Outpatient Care Report, FY 2010. Washington, DC: Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Mental Health Services


Service Women's Action Network (SWAN)
New York, NY.
July 21, 2011

To Whom It May Concern:

In accordance with House Rule Xl, clause 2(g)(5), this statement serves as a financial disclosure for the Service Women's Action Network, a 501(c)3 organization located in New York, NY.

The service Women's Action Network has received no funds from Federal grants or subgrants for FY 2011 or the 2 previous fiscal years.

Sincerely,

Greg Jacob
Policy Director