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What’s behind all the sexual harassment claims at the VA?

On Behalf of | Aug 28, 2020 | Employee Discrimination

To simply state that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a sexual harassment problem is, well, a bit of an understatement.

In fact, the vast federal agency is currently recoiling under an onslaught of allegations grounded in widespread unethical and unlawful sexual behavior that is routinely committed in its facilities across the country.

What exactly is the VA’s problem, and how big is it?

Here’s the agency’s problem, in a nutshell: Research authored by the Government Accountability Office dynamically underscores that VA employees routinely labor in an environment that is perhaps more toxic than any other federal work realm.

Vetted findings readily buttress that. They spotlight troubling numbers such as these:

  • Nearly one-quarter of agency employees say that they experienced sexual harassment within a recent measuring period; and
  • Approximately one-third of respondents state that they witnessed sexual harassing conduct

As stated, that level of misconduct is glaringly high, even when compared with other federal departments that have their own notable problems. The VA simply stands out in a prominent and unwanted way for both its pronounced problem and managers’ perceived inability to meaningfully remedy it.

What is the VA doing to combat sexual harassment?

Not nearly enough.

That assessment of tardiness and inadequacy was manifestly notable recently at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing focused on the harassment allegations. Lawmakers from a VA oversight committee gathered to hear the above-cited GAO findings and evaluate the agency’s formal response to them.

Unquestionably, they found the department’s rejoinders wanting. Panel members from both sides of the political aisle expressed material concerns and anger regarding what they perceived as a far-too-casual agency response to a serious problem.

What they found particularly perplexing and problematic was the agency’s stressed timetable for making meaningful fixes. VA Deputy Secretary Pam Powers told the panel members that her agency’s resources were stretched too thinly to effect any real change any time soon. In fact, she stressed that a truly purposeful response would likely not be undertaken until at least 2024.

That was not the answer that lawmakers were looking for. One legislator lamenting VA inaction stressed that Congress simply would not wait for the agency to act, and that the panel would force its hand by enacting new legislation. Another joined in the criticism, saying he found it “appalling” that a mainstream sexual harassment complaint currently takes nearly three years to address and resolve.

The VA is clearly under fire.

“We are out of time, and we need corrective action now,” stated one panel representative.


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