Yesterday the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2074, a bill designed to help prevent sexual assaults in VA hospitals by requiring a comprehensive policy be put into place on reporting and tracking sexual assault incidents that occur in VA facilities.
The bill was written by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY) following a report released by the GAO earlier this year.
In that report, the GAO investigated only five of the VA’s 153 medical facilities and found that there were 284 reports of sexual assaults between January 2007 and July 2010. 67 of these assaults were classified as rape, 185 as inappropriate touching, 13 as forced oral sex, 8 as forceful medical examinations and 11 as other types of sexual assaults involving patients on patients, patients on staff and staff on patients.
SWAN’s executive director Anu Bhagwati released this statement on the GAO report:
“We are extremely outraged at the VA for allowing this to happen, but we are not all that surprised. SWAN has testified numerous times before Congress about the hostile and harassing environment that often exists at VA hospitals. We receive calls every week from veterans telling horror stories of VA visits where they have literally run a gauntlet of sexual harassment and mistreatment. The rates of sexual assault and harassment in the military are disturbing enough. However, to expose veterans to hostile behavior where they are being treated for conditions related to in-service sexual trauma is unconscionable.”
In response to this rampant sexual abuse of veterans, SWAN immediately went to work energizing lawmakers on the Hill to come up with an appropriate piece of legislation that would prevent this atrocious behavior going forward. Following the introduction of H.R. 2074, SWAN was invited to submit hearing testimony to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. As part of that testimony, SWAN stated:
“VA serves tens of thousands of high-risk veterans every year, and as an institution it must accept responsibility for the care and safety of all its patients from the time they walk onto the grounds of a VA facility until they walk off. The VA must not only do so by providing top notch medical treatment, but also superior administrative support as well. That means every VA run facility must develop a well publicized process in place to handle sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints, must have policies that enforce rules and discipline offenders, must train every member of their staff annually on sexual harassment and sexual assault response, must maintain a security presence that is attentive and effective, and must invest in an infrastructure that allows for a completely safe visit. Safety and care for VA patients should not start or stop at the front door.”
A broad-based coalition of key advocacy groups became involved in the issue including the Veterans of Foreign Wars who also testified on H.R. 2074, and the National Organization for Women who issued a resolution in support of the bill.
Having passed the House, the bill now heads over to the Senate. We urge all of our supporters to reach out to your Senators and ask them to support our veterans by holding the VA accountable for the safety of its facilities. The VA must ensure that when veterans go to the VA for treatment that they are in a safe place.