VA Secretary Denis R. McDonough strongly encourages those who witness harassment to support their fellow Veterans by reporting it.
All instances of harassment are inappropriate and will not be tolerated at VA. A comment or behavior that makes another feel uncomfortable could be considered harassment. VA maintains a long-standing, zero-tolerance policy toward harassment and sexual assault.
“Experiencing, or exposure to, harassment can impact us all,” McDonough added.
When an incident is observed and not reported, it can embolden the harasser to continue the inappropriate conduct and make the experiencer feel unsafe, disrespected and unwelcome.
Anyone can report
Anyone can safely report instances of harassment and sexual assault at VA or VA health care facilities, including bystanders who witness an incident or those who were told about an incident.
A free and confidential, 30-minute online VA course offers bystander intervention training and teaches skills on how to recognize, safely intervene (if appropriate) and report incidents of harassment and sexual assault.
Report incidents as soon as possible
VA takes all reports seriously. All reports will be investigated, and appropriate action will be taken. VA encourages reporting incidents as soon as possible to ensure the experiencer gets access to care and timely action can be taken.
“Sometimes those who experienced sexual assault or harassment just want to handle it on their own,” explained Erinn Izykowski, of the VA Assault and Harassment Prevention Office. “They recognize that what happened to them is not acceptable but they may try to dismiss it and just deal with it themselves.”
They do not have to go it alone. VA is dedicated to ensuring the report is taken seriously and that everyone is aware of the services available to aid recovery.
Barriers to reporting
In national surveys, concerns about confidentiality and fear of being blamed often top the list of barriers to reporting. In workplace settings, fear of retaliation or reprisal is a common barrier for those who do not report.
Choosing whether or not to report is personal and VA provides multiple avenues to make reporting more comfortable.
Reporting at VA
For incidents of harassment or sexual assault at a VA facility, individuals should inform a VA employee such as the patient advocate, Vet Center director, VA police, Harassment Prevention Coordinator, or cemetery director.
“There is no wrong door for reporting an incident of harassment or sexual assault,” explained Izykowski, who said an individual may want to see their provider or therapist to report an incident. “Whomever they feel comfortable reporting to is the right person.”