May 14, 2019

VA Must “Do Better” When Addressing Sexual Harassment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) led a letter, released today, signed by Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe, Representative Julia Brownley, Representative Neal Dunn, Representative Chris Pappas, and Representative Jack Bergman calling on Secretary Wilkie to share information from the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ progress implementing their “End Harassment” campaign.

While “We applaud VA for funding research that systematically studied harassment of women veterans in VA health care settings,” the Members wrote, “we learned during the hearing training regarding harassment of or by veterans is not mandatory, and that it is possible there are employees across VA that have not been reached by direct intervention programs such as “Own the Moment.” Furthermore, because all reporting is handled locally, there is no accountability regarding facilities that continue to fail to respond to sexual harassment.”

“It’s clear that women veterans face unique challenges when accessing key VA care, benefits, and resources— and  thanks to Chairwoman Brownley’s leadership, we have a renewed focus on these challenges with the Women Veterans Task Force,” said Chairman Mark Takano. “To change the culture at VA facilities, it’s not enough to simply have sexual harassment training available, this training has to be both mandatory and comprehensive. VA needs to step up to ensure all of our veterans can receive the care they earned and deserve free from harassment.” 

“It is unacceptable to me that women veterans face harassment anywhere, but it is particularly egregious to learn of the harassment that many of them face while attempting to seek care from VA,” said Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe. “I applaud VA for taking action to study the experiences of women in VA medical facilities and to create a safer and more welcoming culture for women veterans and employees.  As this is National Women’s Health Week, there is perhaps no better time to double down on our commitment to ensuring women veterans can access the benefits they have earned without barriers. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in Congress and the Administration to make sure that they have that opportunity

“VA has a responsibility to ensure a safe and respectful environment for women veterans and VA employees," said Congresswoman Julia Brownley, Chair of the Health Subcommittee. "While VA has taken important steps to prevent and address sexual harassment, much more needs to be done to eradicate this pervasive and troubling problem.”

“Women veterans deserve to feel safe while in the care of the VA. Unfortunately, that is not always the case,” said Congressman Dr. Neal Dunn, Ranking Member of the Health Subcommittee. “The systemic harassment of women veterans and female employees at the VA is unacceptable. As we work to improve veterans’ care and hold the VA accountable, we must continue to focus on the needs of our women veterans, which includes ensuring that no veteran faces harassment. I applaud Chairwoman Brownley’s leadership on this issue, and look forward to working with her to improve women veterans’ access to care at the VA.”

“More than 2 million living women veterans served our nation proudly, and it is imperative they are able to access their well-deserved care without facing harassment or inappropriate conduct,” said Congressman Pappas, Chair of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. “I applaud the VA for taking the steps to ensure all our veterans are able to access care in a safe and welcoming environment, but it is evident that significant work remains to be done. I look forward to working with the VA to develop policies to end harassment and misconduct and ensure the VA can fully carry out its mission to care for all of our veterans.”

“I am proud to join my colleagues in calling for the VA to tighten its focus and crack down on the sexual harassment of women Veterans and female employees at VA facilities,” said Congressman Jack Bergman, Ranking Member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. “Those who’ve sacrificed to serve our nation and work to care for our Veterans should never be put in such toxic situations, and we must to more to address them.  We’re sending a strong bipartisan message that the status quo is unacceptable for anyone who works or seeks care at the VA”

In the letter, the Members called on VA to “report to the committee the nationwide collection of data at the local level regarding sexual harassment of both veterans and employees, and that this data be aggregated at VA Central Office. We also request an update on how VA plans to collect and implement best practices regarding response to sexual harassment on VA property.”

See the full letter here.