U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) – a combat veteran and a survivor of sexual assault – is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to take action in addressing sexual harassment within the agency. This follows Ernst’s previous letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilke where she called on the VA to make preventing and addressing sexual assault and harassment a top priority at the VA following alarming reports of incidents within the department. The senator also requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of the VA’s efforts to prevent and address sexual harassment of its employees. Yesterday, GAO released that report.
The report revealed that the VA does not require reporting of all sexual harassment complaints, has an improper leadership structure for overseeing their sexual harassment process, and has incomplete and outdated policies, information, and training. While detailing the specific deficiencies in policies and procedures that hinder efforts to prevent incidents of sexual harassment, the report also offers seven recommendations for the VA to improve prevention and response to reported cases.
Now, Ernst has joined a bipartisan, bicameral letter sent to VA Secretary Wilkie urging him to expedite implementation of GAO’s seven recommendations to address sexual harassment throughout VA.
“These deficiencies are startlingly similar to many previously identified regarding patient harassment, particularly inconsistent understanding and application of policy,” wrote Ernst and her colleagues. “As an institution that is charged with providing healthcare and benefits to survivors of sexual violence, VA must lead on all fronts at the VA Central Office and in all three administrations—Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefits Administration, and National Cemetery Administration—on addressing this issue.”