WASHINGTON – Following the release of a government watchdog report
exposing alarming instances of sexual harassment by employees and management failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Representatives Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) are introducing bipartisan and bicameral legislation to drastically improve policies and oversight and to crack down on harassment at the department.
The lawmakers’ new legislation, the Improving VA Accountability to Prevent Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Act of 2021, would implement numerous policy changes within the VA based on recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. The report—requested by Senator Ernst, herself a combat veteran and survivor of sexual assault—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complaints, has an improper leadership structure for overseeing their sexual harassment process, and has incomplete and outdated policies, information, and training.
“Sexual harassment must be addressed and rooted out no matter where it exists, but under no circumstance can it be permitted under the roof of our nation’s VA—a place so many of our veterans trust and rely on,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “As a sexual assault survivor and a combat veteran myself, I’m disturbed by the failures that have gone on at the VA for far too long. It’s past time we take action with this bipartisan and bicameral bill to expand oversight, improve policies, and ensure sexual harassment is prevented and dealt with properly and immediately.”
“It’s unacceptable that someone who has proudly served our nation is subjected to sexual harassment in the institution whose charge it is to serve them,” said Congressman Pappas. “I am proud to help introduce this legislation that takes critical steps to combat sexual harassment by updating the VA’s antiquated policies and structure in addition to creating stronger reporting requirements. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure all of our veterans can be confident about accessing VA care in a safe, respectful setting.”
“The VA should be a place where veterans can go to feel supported and cared for, yet there is clear evidence of significant sexual harassment at the VA,” Senator Hassan said. “In order for veterans and staff to feel safe at the VA, we must take an aggressive approach to combat this harassment and ensure that survivors are being heard. I am glad to work with my colleagues across the aisle on this important bill that will take steps to hold perpetrators accountable.”
“The widespread failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs to address sexual harassment properly are inexcusable,” said Congresswoman Hinson. “Our bipartisan bill will help fix the systemic issues with how the VA handles sexual harassment and put policies in place to prevent it in the future. I thank Senator Joni Ernst for her continued leadership on this critical issue, which will no doubt help many veterans who have faced sexual harassment or discrimination, and I am proud to introduce this legislation alongside her.”