Republican senators demand answers on 'alarming' sexual misconduct at VA

Photo credit U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Julio Martinez Martinez

Two Republican senators are demanding answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs on "alarming" reports of sexual misconduct at VA. 

Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., sent a letter to Secretary Robert Wilkie calling for information to "identify gaps in VA's policies, prevent reoccurrence of such incidents and hold perpetrators accountable." 

“The recent incidents indicate that there may be lingering issues within VA policies, procedure and system that must be resolved," the senators wrote. "We are disturbed by these allegations and feel it is essential that we understand better what the VA is doing to address the problems and prevent them from happening in the future.”

In their letter, the senators asked: 

  • "How VA assesses credentials of contracting providers? Do standards exist to ensure these providers have no history of sexual assault or sexual harassment? If not, how can the department improve this process?
  • How many current employees of the VA have been convicted of sexual assault or had a complaint involving sexual assault sustained by an administrative determination? Has the VA increased an employee’s rate of basic pay, awarded an employee a bonus or promoted an employee after said employee was found to have a Title VII sexual assault complaint declared final by administrative or judicial determination?
  •  Does the VA offer counseling and other services to victims who were sexually assaulted while receiving care from the department? What is the VA’s policy on making sure that victims are properly attended to if they do fall victim to this crime?
  • How is the department working with medical staff, non-medical staff, and patients to raise awareness about sexual assault and sexual harassment at VA facilities?
  • What are the current VA policies for reporting and responding to instances of sexual assault or sexual harassment? What actions does the department take to hold perpetrators of sexual assault or sexual harassment accountable?
  •  How is the VA working with the Department of Defense to gather information about sexual assault in the military in order to improve programming across the Veterans Health Administration to better understand the needs of veterans who were victims of sexual assault while on active duty? 
  • What is the department doing to accommodate the needs of our growing female veteran population at VA medical facilities?"

The senators gave Wilkie a deadline of Nov. 14 to respond to their letter.  

The House Veterans Affairs Committee recently passed the omnibus women veterans care bill, the Deborah Sampson Act, which includes a mandate for VA to create a more robust sexual harassment and sexual assault policy systemwide. That bill is headed to the House floor for a vote. 

That move followed news that a senior Congressional policy advisor and Navy veteran, Andrea Goldstein, was sexually assaulted at the Washington, D.C. VA

Sexual assault and misconduct are a major issue at both VA and within the Armed Forces, particularly for women veterans and service members. 

National VA data shows that about one in every four women veterans or service members have experienced military sexual trauma, and studies, where participants were allowed to remain anonymous, suggest that number could be even higher. 

Overall and despite Pentagon efforts, the number of military sexual assaults rose 38 percent, a survey from earlier this year showed. 

In the past months, former VA staffers have been implicated in the deaths of veterans at several VAs and of and multiple sexual assaults at a VA in West Virginia

Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.
Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.