Kuster Joins House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for Hearing on Ending Sexual Harassment at the VA
**Kuster joins hearing after GAO report requested by Kuster finds alarming rates of sexual harassment at the Department of Veterans Affairs**
**Last week, following the GAO report’s release, Rep. Kuster joined a bipartisan group of Members in calling on VA Sec. Wilkie to enact the recommendations made by GAO to address sexual harassment within the VA**
Today, Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02) joined the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and the Women Veterans Task Force for a joint hearing on preventing sexual harassment in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Today’s hearing follows last week’s release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report – written at the request of Kuster and colleagues – on the inconsistent and incomplete policies that hinder the VA’s efforts to protect employees from sexual harassment. During the hearing, the Committee heard heard from Pamela Powers, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs; Cindy Brown Barnes, Director of the Education, Workforce, and Income Security Team Government Accountability Office; Joy Ilem, National Legislative Director of Disabled American Veterans; accompanied by additional representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The GAO report entitled “Sexual Harassment: Inconsistent and Incomplete Policies and Information Hinder VA’s Efforts to Protect Employees,” details VA’s policies and procedures that have hampered efforts to address and prevent harassment between VA employees. Kuster joined a bipartisan group of collagues in sending a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie urging him to expedite implementation of GAO’s seven recommendations to address sexual harassment throughout VA.
“Those who go into public service to care for our veterans deserve so much better than the status quo,” said Kuster. “I know from having served on this committee for six years that the VA simply cannot serve our veterans effectively when staff are being victimized at such a pervasive rate. Course corrections are needed as soon as possible and time is of the essence. I will work with my colleagues on the Committee to see that this gets done, but the VA must immediately enact the seven recommendations made in the GAO’s report and prioritize addressing and preventing sexual harassment.”
Kuster served on the Commitee on Veterans’ Affairs for six years and is a vocal advocate for policy solutions to mitigate sexual harassment and violence. The founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, Kuster and the task force held a roundtable discussion on Military Sexual Trauma (MST) last year.
A 2018 study by the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent executive branch group that promotes employee protection and advancement, found that 26 percent of female employees and 14 percent of male employees at the VA said they experienced sexual harassment from 2014 to 2016 - the highest rate of sexual harassment (for both genders combined) of any of the 24 federal agencies studied.