A bipartisan group of lawmakers are holding the department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to task, demanding immediate changes to policies following a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found 26% of female VA employees said they experienced sexual harassment. The report also found 14% of male employees were subject to hostile work environments, the Military Times reported.
“The department must make the prevention and addressing of sexual harassment a top priority,” the group of chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees stated in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “As an institution that is charged with providing health care and benefits to survivors of sexual violence, VA must lead on all fronts … on addressing this issue.”
The letter immediately followed the release of the GAO report highlighting the VA’s handling of sexual harassment claims and lack of adequate training. The “VA’s core values, which include integrity, advocacy, and respect, along with its ability to deliver the highest quality services to the nation’s veterans, may be compromised,” the letter cautioned.
The report relied on survey data from 2014 to 2016 — the latest available. VA press secretary Christina Noel claimed that “since then, VA has championed several efforts aimed at preventing harassment in all forms while improving employee experiences, retention, and morale.”
But the lawmakers disagreed, calling out several changes that have yet to be made, such as requiring that all sexual harassment allegations at the VA be reported. This, they argued, could indicate an underreporting of such cases. Furthermore, lawmakers have long called for the VA to update its “incomplete and outdated” sexual harassment training and awareness programs. The VA has said it would have the programs available by fall 2021. Lawmakers say that’s not soon enough.
Workplace sexual harassment has been the topic of national conversations since the #MeToo movement provided victims a platform to reclaim their voice and seek justice for the wrongs committed against them. If you think you have been a victim of workplace sexual harassment, it is important to seek the immediate advice of an employment lawyer. Contact Larry Golston, Lauren Miles or Leon Hampton, lawyers in our firm’s Consumer Fraud & Commercial Litigation Section to discuss a possible claim.