Veterans Sexually Assaulted in VA Clinics and Hospitals

A disturbing new report from the Government Accountability Office shows that although there were 284 reported sexual assaults in hospitals and clinics operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) between 2007 and 2010, many of these never made their way to regional or central offices.  In fact, nearly two-thirds of the were not reported to the VA Office of the Inspector General, as required by VA regulation.  And the report adds that there is reason to believe that there are many other assaults that go unreported.

It’s no secret that rates of sexual assault in the military are unacceptably high, and that many reported cases go uninvestigated.  But discussions of rape in the military mostly center around active servicepeople, not veterans.  This report is a wake-up call about the fact that protection from sexual assault needs to be a priority after members of the military have become veterans and begin to seek care with the VA.

The assaults were mostly perpetrated by other patients; according to the report, “89 were patient-on-patient assaults, 85 were patient-on-employee assaults, 46 were employee-on-patient assaults, 15 were employee-on-employee assaults and 28 involved an unknown assailant attacking a patient.”  This is an unsurprising finding, given that veterans entering a facility are often not screened for violence.  The problem seems to be men assaulting patients of both genders: women were the victims in slightly over half the patient-on-patient cases.  A woman was accused of assaulting a male patient in only one case.

The report, however, identified many issues in the way that VA facilities and police handled sexual assault.  ”Factors that may contribute to the underreporting of sexual assault incidents include the lack of both a clear definition of sexual assault and expectations on what incidents should be reported,” the GAO explains, “as well as deficient [Veterans Health Administration] Central Office oversight of sexual assault incidents.”

The Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) wrote a statement about the report, pointing out that “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.”  However, these women routinely receive a lower level of care than veterans who use other facilities.  Unsurprisingly, the women who choose not to use the VA usually have access to private insurance.

Legislators seemed unnerved by the findings, as well they should.  Jeff Miller, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, said the report reminded him of “a 1950s prison system — lawlessness, lack of security and reporting, and outright disregard for human dignity.”

At least this means that politicians seem willing to act swiftly to improve safety in VA facilities.  According to SWAN,  the House Committee on Veterans Affairs has introduced H.R. 2074, a bill that would “require the VA to track all sexual assaults and to closely examine veterans that may pose a risk of committing sexual assault.”  The committee will also hold a hearing next week to examine the findings.

In the meantime, though, you can add your voice to the many Care2 members who are telling the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to act decisively to correct the egregious lapses chronicled in this report.  Sign the petition and tell Rep. Miller and the VA Committee to stop sexual assaults on veterans!

Photo from Lisa Norwood’s Flickr photostream.


Donegal Higgins
Past Member 5 years ago

The level of sexual abuse perpetrated against military personnel is simply outrageous. The military must stop sweeping this horror under the rug!

Sandra Streifel
Sandra S5 years ago

Robert S. feels that this rate is so statistically small as to be inconsequential, and that spending money to keep patients secure is wasted. When so much money is wasted overseas in wars of, at best, doubtful usefulness to taxpayers, keeping helpless patients safe from hellish attacks seems worth at least the trouble of investigation and reporting. If Robert S. or his family member were attacked, he would at least want to know that basic security measures, and minimal expense of investigation and reporting had been done to prevent the assault and ensure that no other patients were victimized in a similar manner.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

This report if horrendous. I am an R.N., and helpless, wounded, psychologically scarred, ill patients should be PROTECTED by all. This is too awful to contemplate. More has to be done to protect patients, and employees also need screening. This is awful.

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago

Hard to believe... Agree with Bernadette: The punishment for this must be very very severe!

Robert S.
Robert S.6 years ago

In a perfect world there would be no sexual assaults, but let's be realistic. This study reports 248 instances, over a 42 month period which is 6 per month. With 152 Medical centers, and hundreds of clinics (the VA treats half a million veterans a month) the percentage here is so small (less than .002%) that other companies should look at the VA as a role model. The true outrage should be that the feds will now spend hundreds of millions of dollars to combat this.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

And its not just women either.

Valarie S.
Valarie Snell6 years ago

this is sad but not surprising

Dotti Lydon
Dotti L6 years ago

During my many years in nursing, I saw only one case of sexual assault. Our Veterans should be treated with dignity and great respect.

Elizabeth K.
Elizabeth K6 years ago

from Lawrence J. Kolb, past asst sec of Defense

"The issue of abortion coverage [for servicewomen] is especially important because the incidence of sexual violence in the armed services persists. Despite the Pentagon's no-tolerance policy toward sexual assault, more than 3,000 cases were reported last year. The overwhelming majority of victims were women under the age of 25 and from junior enlisted ranks. In fact, the actual rates of assault are estimated to be at least four times higher because women often do not report such abuse out of concern that it could negatively affect or even destroy their careers. "

Sue Horwood
.6 years ago

Unforgivable. Something should be done.