Following a new report highlighting that more than one-quarter of women working as Veterans Affairs employees experienced sexual harassment, congressional leaders on Wednesday demanded immediate changes in department policies to ensure that such claims are investigated and addressed instead of being overlooked.
“The department must make the prevention and addressing of sexual harassment a top priority,” a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers stated in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “As an institution that is charged with providing healthcare and benefits to survivors of sexual violence, VA must lead on all fronts … on addressing this issue.”
The letter — signed by the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees, as well as Iraq War veteran Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa — came just a few hours after a new Government Accountability Office report lamenting shortfalls in VA training, reporting and oversight of sexual harassment events.
“Absent additional action, some VA employees may continue to distrust VA’s handling of sexual harassment allegations,” the report stated. “Further, VA’s core values, which include integrity, advocacy, and respect, along with its ability to deliver the highest quality services to the nation’s veterans, may be compromised.”
According to federal survey data from 2014 to 2016 — the latest year the survey was conducted — 26 percent of women who worked at VA reported some form of sexual harassment, and 14 percent of male employees said they were subject to similar unwelcome workplace behavior.
Government-wide, the number of women reporting workplace sexual harassment was 21 percent. Among men, it was 9 percent.