As the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) reported last week on its new blog, a scathing new report was just published by the Government Accountability Office detailing how the Department of Veterans Affairs is failing at both preventing and tracking sexual assaults at VA facilities across the country. For example, they report that “nearly two-thirds of sexual assault incidents” of which there were nearly 300, “involving rape allegations originating in VA facilities were not reported to the VA Office of the Inspector General, as required by VA regulation.”
As has been discussed widely here at Feministing, and elsewhere, military sexual assault is rampant. The Department of Defense estimates that over 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010 alone. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 27.8 percent of U.S. women veterans have enrolled in the VA health care system, and those who recently served in Afghanistan and Iraq are turning to VA health care at unprecedented rates. There is such a dire need for survivors of these crimes, reported or not, to feel safe when they’re getting the health care they need and deserve.
Anu Bhagwati, former Marine Corps Captain and executive director of SWAN explains:
We are extremely outraged at the VA for allowing this to happen, but we are not all that surprised. SWAN has testified numerous times before Congress about the hostile and harassing environment that often exists at VA hospitals. We receive calls every week from veterans telling horror stories of VA visits where they have literally run a gauntlet of sexual harassment and mistreatment. The rates of sexual assault and harassment in the military are disturbing enough. However, to expose veterans to hostile behavior where they are being treated for conditions related to in-service sexual trauma is unconscionable.
When the report was presented to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla) said that he was “aghast” after reading it. He went on to say: “It reminded me of a 1950s prison system — lawlessness, lack of security and reporting, and outright disregard for human dignity.”
Express your solidarity with Rep. Miller, who has stated an intention to force the VA to make improvements, by emailing him or contacting him here:
2416 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-4136
Fax: (202) 225-3414