September 26, 2019

Chairman Takano Addresses Sexual Assault at DC VAMC, Calls for Department-Wide Policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) toured the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center, met with VA leadership, and spoke with women veterans in an effort to address sexual assault and harassment on VA campuses.

Chairman Takano is continuing his call for action after Committee staffer and Senior Policy Advisor for the Women Veterans Task Force, Andrea Goldstein, experienced a sexual assault at the Washington D.C. VA last Friday. Disabled American Veterans’ National Legislator Director, Joy Ilem, also joined the Committee’s visit to speak to DAV’s extensive work on women veterans. The Committee is asking VA to do more to address these incidents on VA campuses by instituting a Department-wide anti-sexual harassment and assault policy, and requiring mandatory training for all VA staff to properly identify and intervene in these situations.

9.26 DC VA

Find a video of the press conference here and both Chairman Takano and Andrea Goldstein’s remarks as prepared below:  

Chairman Mark Takano:

Good morning.

We’re here today because sadly across our country veterans are being sexually harassed or assaulted, disrespected, their service diminished, their voices silenced. 

These women and men served our country and they earned the right to be here. All veterans, regardless of gender, should have the expectation of safety at VA facilities. But for too many, this has not been the reality.

No veteran should feel unsafe visiting a VA facility.

Earlier this Congress, we launched the Women Veterans Task Force, led by Chairwoman Julia Brownley. Since then, Chairwoman Brownley’s Task Force has held round tables and hearings, visited facilities across the country and written to VA asking them to address sexual harassment at VA facilities. And still, it’s clear we have work to do for the 2 million women veterans have served our country.

We’re also here today because these instances have now impacted our Committee much more directly-- one of our own experienced a sexual assault right here on this campus. 

Today, along with Chairwoman Brownley I am calling on VA to immediately institute a Department-wide and anti-sexual harassment and assault policy. This abuse doesn’t happen everywhere, it doesn’t happen every time, but it happens too much, and too often it’s at a VA facility. And once again, I’m asking VA to ensure that all VA staff have MANDATORY bystander intervention training to identify and diffuse incidents of harassment and assault, support veterans who report an incident and cooperate with the proper law enforcement to keep these veterans safe. 

No veteran, family member, caregiver, VA employee or contractor should be the victim of sexual assault or harassment at a VA facility. EVER. 

And now, I’d like to introduce Andrea Goldstein—a valued member of our team and Senior Policy Advisor for the Women Veterans Task Force.

Andrea Goldstein, Senior Policy Advisor, Women Veterans Task Force:

My name is Andrea Goldstein, and I’m a proud Navy veteran and Congressional staffer for the Women Veterans Task Force. 

On Friday, September 20th, I was sexually assaulted by an individual that I suspect is another veteran in the atrium of the Washington, D.C. VA Medical center while waiting for an appointment. Several employees witnessed the assault and said nothing. In addition, I reported the incident to multiple employees: a worker at the information desk, the patient advocate, and finally, my doctor before police were called. Since then, my case has been handled with compassion and urgency.

I have almost exclusively used VA for my healthcare since I left active duty three years ago. I have done so not by necessity, but by choice. VA has provided me with excellent access to timely, high-quality healthcare. And because of my service-connection, itis all without copays.

A few months ago, when I had an urgent medical issue, it was this facility that saw me on the same day, before a private provider even returned my phone call.

On Friday, I experienced a crime and indignity that women veterans around the nation face while trying to access healthcare. At least one in four women veterans experience sexual or gender-based harassment at VA facilities.

We are not faceless stats. We are veterans, we are your neighbor, your co-worker, we are partners, friends, and parents. 

Posters are not policy. I am hopeful that VA will take this opportunity to develop policies that will create accountability measures that will ensure VA is a safe and welcoming environment for ALL veterans. In fact, when I was assaulted, I had a copy of draft legislation in my bag that could help us do just that.

I wish more women veterans used VA. The healthcare I have received at this VA and others has been transformational. I will continue to use this facility for my healthcare, as is my right. When I visit I will proudly walk through that front door, and I’m asking VA to do more to ensure all veterans can feel safe doing the same.

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Miguel R. Salazar