April 22, 2021

Chairman Takano: “VSOs are key partners in our work to end sexual harassment & assault at VA”

Press Contact

Jenni Geurink (202-819-4684)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) spoke at a closed-door full Committee roundtable about the role of Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) in eliminating sexual harassment at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Ten veterans groups that represent a cross-section of the veteran community, including both Congressionally-chartered VSOs and grassroots organizations representing women and minority veterans, participated in the roundtable. Committee members and VSO leaders discussed ways to work together to eradicate sexual harassment and assault at VA facilities—a key piece of Chairman Takano’s priorities this Congress. 


Chairman Takano’s remarks as prepared:  


Today, I’m thrilled to welcome ten Veteran Service Organizations to our virtual roundtable to discuss the role that VSOs and advocacy organizations play in eliminating sexual harassment and sexual assault at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).


As you know, this month is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month, when we specifically set aside time to raise public awareness about sexual violence and educate communities and individuals about violence prevention. 


Sexual harassment and sexual assault constitute an abuse of power.  At least one in four women and one in ten men who served in the military are survivors of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sexual abuse, most frequently perpetrated by other servicemembers. Last week I spoke with several VSOs advocating on behalf of women and LGBTQ+ veterans-- stories of sexual harassment and assault came up in every conversation. Frankly, instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault that occur within the military community are the result of longstanding leadership failures to address the issue head on, failures to believe the stories of survivors, failures to hold perpetrators accountable for their cowardly actions, and failures to take the necessary steps to dismantle  an environment where gender-based violence thrives. 


At VA, at least one in four women veterans and one in four women employees experience sexual harassment in healthcare settings. Frequently, the perpetrator is a male veteran. 


In addition, VA employees have access to veterans’ sensitive information, and we need to ensure that that information is safeguarded from potential abuse. I recently signed onto a letter let by Assistant Speaker Clark, which was co-signed by several members of this Committee, specifically addressing this issue after one of Ms. Clark’s constituents was subject to digital harassment by a VA employee. 


Your organizations have recognized this problem and are key partners in our work to end sexual harassment and sexual assault at VA.  


Thanks to your input, we ensured that by law, VA is required to work with Veteran Service Organizations, Tribal Service Organizations, and state and local veteran organizations to implement section 5303 of the Deborah Sampson Act. This key provision  mandates that VA develop a comprehensive sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention policy. 


I am optimistic that Secretary McDonough has set a positive tone, taking the “White Ribbon Pledge” in his first week in office at the Washington, D.C., VA, and recently holding an event last week where many of you also took the pledge.  


As the Biden-Harris Administration continues its efforts to end violence against women, and as we work to implement the Deborah Sampson Act, we want to hear from you about how VA is doing, and your vision for optimal VSO involvement.  


Eliminating sexual harassment and sexual assault at VA is key in order to meet four of my top priorities for this Congress. This is key to create a more welcoming VA and build equity for veterans, advocate for women veterans, improve VA’s management and oversight, and ensure our legislative reforms are implemented effectively. 


I’m looking forward to today’s discussion to hear how our VSO partners best envision the path forward.