Report: The VA needs to do more to prevent and address sexual harassment

·3 min read

The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to do more to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a recent government report.

It addresses sexual harassment of people who work in VA hospitals and agency offices. These are concerns of the workers who serve those who served our country.

“No one should have to go to work and be subjected to harassment and be made to feel unsafe,” Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., said at a Congressional hearing.

But according to the report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, that is happening at the VA.

We were able to confirm it with Tinita Cole, who has worked at the Dayton, Ohio VA for 31 years. Cole is also a National Representative and EEOC Chair with the American Federation of Government Employees National VA Council – a union representing VA employees. We asked her if she has been sexually harassed while working at the VA.

“Employees would say certain things to me,” she said. “I didn’t care for it, but you have to, you have to grow thicker skin because you have to work.”

According to a graphic in the report based on survey results, an estimated 17% of VA employees stated they had experienced at least one harassing behavior, compared to 12% of other federal employees surveyed.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers questioned VA officials.

“We are committed absolutely to turning this thing around and fixing it and I think we are,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Harvey Johnson said.

This isn’t the first time VA officials have been in the hot seat when it comes to harassment. The GAO made seven recommendations back in 2020, but two years later, some of them have not been carried out.

Officials said the agency has made progress, but now needs to fully implement the changes or our nation’s heroes — and those who care for them — could pay the price.

“It is negative and detrimental to any culture and the dignity of the men and women who serve,” said Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich.

“Any time somebody is being harassed and made to feel uncomfortable, you cannot focus on your job,” Tinita Cole added. “Anytime an employee is unhappy, it’s a discredit to the veteran.”

We reached out to the VA for a response.

“We will stop at nothing to make sure that every person who interacts with VA is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” VA press secretary Terrence Hayes wrote in a statement. “VA has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and assault, and we have worked hard to improve our structures, policies, and processes to ensure that sexual harassment is never tolerated at VA. GAO is an essential partner, and we appreciate their focus on this important issue.”

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