Over the last three years, there have been nearly 300 sexual assaults at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, according to a report issued last week by the Government Accountability Office. The GOA report finds 67 instances of alleged rape, 185 instances of inappropriate touching, eight instances of forceful medical examinations and 24 other alleged sexual assaults.
Victims include both men and women. The report shows assaults by patients on other patients and employees as well as assaults by employees on patients and other employees. The GAO assembled the report at the request of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The House Committee will meet next week to discuss the findings.
Last week, the House Committee introduced legislation requiring the VA to track all sexual assaults and to better assess those at risk of committing crimes. VA regulations currently require that all potential felonies be reported up the chain of command to the inspector general, but the GAO report found that the inspector general’s office had not learned of 42 rape cases.
“When I first read this report, I was aghast,” said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “It reminded me of a 1950s prison system—lawlessness, lack of security and reporting, and outright disregard for human dignity.”
Investigators visited five VA medical centers and found weak physical security at most. The investigators found panic alarm systems that did not work, closed circuit surveillance cameras that were not being monitored and facilities that were understaffed with police officers.
The Department of Veterans Affair is the largest integrated health care system in the nation. It currently treats some 6 million veterans at 152 medical centers, including VA hospitals, clinics and residential treatment facilities (Zoroya.) In recent years, the VA demographic has changed significantly due to the conflicts in Afghansitan and Iraq. It has also seen a sharp rise in the number of women since women earned the same enlistment status as men in 1980.
While allowing women to serve their countries is a noble thing, the military has had trouble protecting them from sexual assault both in active duty and as veterans. The GOA report says that clinicians from an unnamed VA care facility are worried because the clinic houses both women veterans and veterans who have committed sexual crimes in the past. Coupled with weak physical security and understaffing, this mixed population could prove calamitous.
A VA spokesman said the department is reviewing the report and taking corrective steps. “We are taking steps to expand and improve our reporting of allegations and to provide more secure facilities,” said Josh Taylor of the VA. “We take all allegations seriously and investigate them thoroughly” (Zoroya.)
In 2009, the VA established the Integrated Operations Center, a 24/7 facility charged with handling reports of crime on VA property and following them up. But, judging by the 42 unreported rapes, there is still much work to do.
“VA needs to really take some decisive action now to try to mitigate future incidents and prevent them,” said Randall Williamson, the senior investigator on the case.
In closing, our veterans make a courageous sacrifice to fight wars on our behalf. Thus, it is the least we can do to ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect in the civilian world. VA sexual abuse is blight on our national character, and thus, we must fight to preserve the dignity of those who have served. If you or a loved one has suffered abuse in a veteran’s facility, please contact Dolan Legal for your free consultation.
Zoroya, Gregg. “Report reveals sexual assault sat veterans facilities.” USA Today. 8 June 2011
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