A Navy veteran and senior policy advisor on the Congressional Women Veterans Task Force said she was sexually assaulted at the Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center.
Andrea Goldstein, a Naval intelligence officer now serving in the Reserves, said she was assaulted on Sept. 20. Goldstein first told The New York Times and later recounted at a press conference Thursday morning her assault. She said that a man she "suspects is another veteran," slammed his body against hers, then pressed himself against her.
He said "you look like you could use a good time," she told the Times, then "he pressed his entire body against mine."
Goldstein was waiting for a doctor's appointment in the atrium of one of the most praised VA women's clinics when she says she was attacked. A draft of a bill to help combat sexual assault and harassment was in her purse.
Multiple people witnessed her assault, which Goldstein said happened "out in the open," but most "said nothing." One woman told her assailant not to "invade" someone's personal space, she said. Goldstein reported her assault to multiple staffers at VA, but it was not until she spoke to her doctor that the police were called, she said.
Goldstein plans to continue to use the D.C. VA "as is my right," she said, but called on VA to make its facilities "safe for all veterans."
The Department of Veterans Affairs said it is investigating.
“At least one in four women veterans experienced sexual or gender-based harassment at VA facilities,” Goldstein said. “We are not faceless staff. We are veterans. We are your neighbor. We are your coworker. We are partners, friends and parents.”
Women veterans are more than twice as likely to die by suicide than non-veteran women, and about one in four women veterans experience sexual harassment or assault at VA facilities. Women are about seven times more likely to experience military sexual trauma than men.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., standing next to Goldstein in front of the VA medical center Thursday, called for VA to establish a national, systemwide sexual assault and harassment policy, something the Women Veterans Task Force, including Goldstein, has been working on for months.
"The statistics ... ought to shock and concern every American," Takano said. "This recent incident ... only underscores what we knew was happening to thousands of veterans across the country."
"If Andrea wasn't the person she was, I could imagine (another veteran) just giving up when facing an indifferent employee. This incident might have gone unreported. We need to have far more updated training ... Changing a mindset and a culture is about changing the nervous system, rebuilding ... to better serve the veterans of our country."
Takano said veterans themselves need to be held to a "higher standard." Goldstein said she believes her assailant was a fellow veteran.
"There has to be a clear message sent to all who use the VA that a certain level of behavior is expected of them or they won't be able to use these services," he said.