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Hon. Russ Carnahan, a Representative in Congress from the State of Missouri

Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for hosting this hearing to discuss the prevention of sexual assault and other related safety incidents occurring in VA facilities.  Sexual assault is one the most severe concerns in any organization and can leave lasting physical and mental trauma to the victim. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has helped shed light on this very pressing issue, and we need to confront this problem head on.

We must work together to improve the safety of our VA health facilities. And should an incident of sexual assault occur, it must be properly documented and adjudicated with the fullest extent of the law. Today’s hearing provides a important dialogue between Congress and those with intimate knowledge of what needs to be done to guarantee the safety of our veterans.

The GAO’s findings reveal that nearly 300 cases of sexual assault incidents involving rape allegations went unreported to the VA Office of the Inspector General. After fighting to protect our nation, our heroes have the right to safe and secure access to the Veterans Health Administration system. They also have the right to justice if an incident of sexual assault does occur.

We must ensure that all veterans feel completely comfortable using their provided health care locations. This means implementing the necessary security precautions in medical facilities, including effective alarm systems and closed circuit cameras with continuous safety monitoring.

Consistency and communication are vital. Currently, no VHA-wide definition of sexual assault exists. The GAO has recommended the creation of a workgroup to establish a new clear definition. This will greatly help incident reporting, assessment, and management on all levels. Only when every case is properly documented and investigated can other similar incidents be prevented. We must work to ensure that a centralized reporting and tracking mechanism is implemented. Strengthened oversight is key in managing and combating sexual assault incidents.

With a growing number of women veterans, improved VA health services are necessary. It is paramount that all veterans receive the care they need and deserve. This can only occur if veterans feel safe in VA facilities. No victim of sexual assault should feel reluctant to report their case. No veteran should fear being ignored or even blamed.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on ways we can ensure a safe and secure environment at all VA facilities.