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January 21, 2020

VA leader must demonstrate commitment to ending harassment

By Kayla M. Williams

Last week, news outlets reported Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie sent a letter to Rep. Mark Takano (D. Calif.), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, with an update on the department’s response to staffer Andrea Goldstein’s allegation of being sexually assaulted at the D.C. VA Medical Center. Wilkie wrote that the matter has been closed with no charges filed. The letter stated that “VA is a safe place for all Veterans to enter and receive care and services” and further called Ms. Goldstein’s claims “unsubstantiated.”

This letter is a breathtakingly inappropriate response to a well-documented concern within the VA medical system. Secretary Wilkie should apologize to Ms. Goldstein — and all the women veterans whose similar concerns he has undermined by extension — and immediately commit to redoubling senior leader support for the End Harassment campaign.

VA’s own research shows that women veterans do not find the VA to be a safe place to enter to receive care and services. To the contrary, one in four women veterans reported having experienced sexual harassment, typically by their fellow patients. These women were “less likely to report feeling welcome at VA, and more likely to report feeling unsafe and delaying/missing care.” Previous VA research has also shown that women veterans who have previous experiences of sexual trauma feel even less safe at VA facilities, which represents a significant barrier to care for individuals with a high burden of health care challenges in particular need of VA’s subject matter expertise in treating trauma.

Read the full article in The Hill.

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