When women Veterans experience harassment at VA facilities, it can affect their health.

A national survey of more than 1,300 randomly selected women Veterans at 12 different VA facilities found that one in four of them reported inappropriate or unwanted comments or behavior by male Veterans on VA grounds.

Women who reported harassment were significantly more likely to report feeling unwelcome at VA, feeling unsafe, and delaying or missing medical appointments. Harassment is also known to potentially trigger mental health symptoms in those who experience harassment.

VA will not accept harassment of any kind, at any facility

This month, we are rolling out a new campaign at VA health care facilities to remind everyone – patients, providers, and staff – that VA has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to harassment.

VA has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to harassment.

These reminders will meet Veterans where the negative behavior may be happening: in hallways, waiting rooms, public areas, and parking lots of VA facilities.

All Veterans, their families, caregivers, survivors, VA staff, visitors and advocates deserve to feel safe and welcome at VA. This means we will not tolerate or accept harassment of any kind, in any facility.

If a comment or behavior makes someone else feel uncomfortable or unsafe, that is considered harassment.

Examples of harassment include:

  • Commenting on someone’s body, clothing, or the way they look, even if it is meant to be a compliment, such as “You’re so pretty.”
  • Staring, leering, or ogling at someone.
  • Telling a stranger to smile or come sit by you.
  • Telling someone they are too pretty to be a Veteran.
  • Taking an unauthorized picture of a stranger in a VA facility (for example, with a smart phone) or approaching someone you don’t know and asking to take a picture.
  • Catcalling, whistling, or openly making comments like “Are you single?”
  • Following or cornering someone.
  • Calling someone an unwelcome name, like baby, honey, or sweetheart.

Ensuring that VA is a safe and comfortable place

We are all accountable for the culture at VA. Fellow Veterans and VA providers and staff must work together to ensure everyone feels that VA is a safe and comfortable place to receive health care and to work.

Most Veterans do not harass others and often step in to help out a fellow Veteran. However, it only takes one inappropriate comment or action to make someone feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

If you experience harassment, you do not need to put up with it. And if you see harassment, it’s your option to report it immediately.

Tell VA police, security, facility leadership, a Women Veteran Program Manager, the Women Veteran’s Call Center (1-855-829-6636) or a patient advocate if you see or experience harassment at VA.


Dr. Patricia Hayes is the VA Chief Officer for Women’s Health.

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11 Comments

  1. Nicole Anderson June 3, 2021 at 2:54 pm

    I receive treatment at a VAMC in St Louis MO. If I were to list all the times I have been sexually harassed at this VAMC (including a CBOC) it would be a book.
    I am an MST survivor and find sexual harassment to be triggering and it deters me from seeking care.
    I recently went to the ER at the VAMC and a transporter was summoned to take me to X-ray. He oggled me and kept staring at me at every opportunity. He even asked me what I injured ( he doesn’t have a need to know).
    After my x-rays he came and retrieved me. As we waited for the elevator, instead of remaining behind me, he faced me and stared, then asked me if I was married.
    I asked him why he needs to know my marital status.
    He replied, because you’re very attractive.
    I went off on him.
    I told him I wasn’t interested and that he’s being inappropriate. I told him I don’t feel well and any person who comes to the hospital does not want some guy trying to make the “moves” on them.
    I said a lot more, he apologized.
    I felt empowered, but I was also disturbed.
    I am so tired of men using the VAMC like a dating app or their hunting grounds for prey!
    It’s frightening, it’s disgusting, it’s inappropriate and intrusive!!!

  2. Ashley Zuniga May 27, 2021 at 8:45 am

    I was harassed by a member of my primary care team. Twice. I reported to a social worker at the clinic, nothing happened. I called the White House hotline and reported, nothing happened. I kept reporting until 6 months later, I finally saw a new primary care team. For 6 months I had to avoid getting necessary treatment. I am an MST Survivor. We should be able to trust our medical teams, at the very least. Each visit now sends me into a tailspin of anxiety to the point of being physically ill. A simple appointment is an exhausting mission. It should not be this way.

  3. Scottie Gonzales May 26, 2021 at 10:55 pm

    I’m tired of “war snobs” looking down on me because of the combat jobs I couldn’t do because they were not available to me when I signed up. I also hated the dirty look I got when the one guy realized I was filing a disability claim even though I wasn’t a “real veteran” like him. I was filing a claim for MST thanks to guys just like him wearing my same uniform. But I “looked fine”… yeah, because I’m good at that. That’s just good discipline I was taught in a lifetime of martial arts.

    Maybe he doesn’t think there is a place for me in “his military” because they could hire a man to do my job. The way I see it, they can hire a man to do his job that can work with anyone without causing problems. I worked with plenty of those who were not distracted by my presence. Guys like him have to be babied by the service. They lower the standard. Regular guys in the civilian world work side by side with women on a daily basis and it’s not hard for them. Thankfully, a lot of the guys I served with were normal guys, but I’m not sure I would even say “most”.

    Prior to military service I worked many jobs in male dominated fields and I was never made aware that I was a woman because nobody cared and it didn’t matter. Competence and reliability mattered. I found out first day of boot camp that being a “female” was going to be an issue. The next nearly six years proved it starting my first day at my first unit. The sad part was the advice from a girl that had been there a couple of years. She said, “My life changed when I finally slept with one. After that they leave you alone and treat you like one of them.” Holy crap. My heart sank. I was 26 at the time with a ten year work history and I never felt I had to do that at a job, nor that it would even benefit me if I did. This poor girl was 19 and this is what she was learning about being a hard working, tax paying American.

    So this is the culture created by the service and it goes with them when they get out. No surprise they still act like a bunch of frat boys when they get out. The military still hasn’t figured out how to deal with “the female problem” yet. I’m sure black men went through a similarly painful integration process when they de-segregated. Lots of harassment and abuse while they tried to sort out “the problem with the blacks”. It’s pathetic that the military in general looks at itself as the best of the best from society. The most honorable and the most competent. But they are the slowest to evolve and they struggle to deal with very normal situations that civilians don’t even notice because they’re such a non issue.

    The military has plenty of real problems to focus on due to the nature of the job. Our patriots who step up to serve their country don’t have time to deal with superfluous made up complications. We should all feel protected, not threatened, by our own guys. Out there, we’re not safe. In here, we should be. We wear the same uniform and we’re on the same team. And by the way, plenty of men also experience MST. They show up with honor and leave confused and betrayed by their own guys.

  4. Doris Allen-Courtney May 26, 2021 at 1:22 pm

    Harassment at the VA in Dallas seems to never stop. While sitting down waiting in blood work 2 other “men” sat down beside me. Their conservative was X-rated to the least. As a female I felt disgusted and asked they stop discussing their sexual needs and expectations. I initially was trying to be polite but when one of the males told me to mind my own business and to stay out of his conservative I got loud. Security was called and NOTHING happened. The office did not want to listen to me regarding the incident. I hate going to the VA but I continue to go due to the cost – can’t afford another DR.

    Harassing behaviors haven’t stopped in the Army nor the VA. This is all for show in an today’s society.

  5. Melanie Clark May 26, 2021 at 12:36 pm

    I use the VA in Little Rock and the CBOC in Hot Springs, AR for some of my health care. Personally, I haven’t ever experienced sexual harassment worth discussing. A glaring look, moving away, or a “Seriously?” generally stops the unwanted behavior. On the other hand, I don’t care what people call me unless they also display unwanted behavior, I let it go and carry on. With my mental health problems, it isn’t good for me to get upset unnecessarily. My recovery is a work in progress. I will not claim to speak for all women. This is My Experience.

  6. Jacinda Tusler May 25, 2021 at 8:20 pm

    This means (and does) nothing. The only people who will pay any attention are women, and we are FULLY AWARE. Also, side note; how about we stop calling everyone sir!!! God, I am so tired of being called sir at the VA

  7. Jill MacDonald May 25, 2021 at 3:11 pm

    The way I handle men who are inappropriate ..I walk right up to them and ask what their problem is?Im a very direct person and suffer from MST I am 100% service connected ..I look like Barbie..lol.. went thru Hell on active duty.. was a combat medic..I get stared at a lot too.and tell them to take a picture it lasts longer…and once was asked if I was in line for pharmacy..I showed my ID card to the man..and he looked embarrassed..I will report anyone acting inappropriate..period.I took a combat position as a female ..and no man will ever intimidate me..I have survived a lot.

  8. Ruth Kelso May 25, 2021 at 2:03 pm

    Hi, Jessica Morris . Thank you for your articulate and cogent comments. You spoke my very words.

    I served during the Vietnam era. Nothing much has changed since then. If anything, now it is more widely known and talked about, and still nothing is done.

    Zero tolerance apparently means they won’t tolerate females demanding respect equal to that given their male counterparts.

    When I spoke up, I was written up and threatened by staff with disciplinary action for causing a disturbance. Nothing was done to the perpetrator, and security was present but supported the perpetrator.

    What shall we do to make this change? I’m up for standing with my sisters against this outrageous injustice.

  9. kathleen tierney May 25, 2021 at 11:36 am

    I also suffered sexual harassment at the hands of a VA employee – I was 68 (5 years ago), shocked mostly because of my age – even after a lifetime of men saying and doing unwanted things to me. Oddly, it NEVER happened while I was serving as a Marine at MCRD in San Diego – a more peaceful, respectful era that has now ended apparently. What happened to me was suffered with grace and style, as I was brought up to do, but continued to the point that I stood up and exploded on him verbally, in front of my co-workers – who cheered me on loudly! They had had enough of this ass as well. I did file a complaint at PVAMC, which went no where, but eventually I heard he’d been demoted to the basement. He did have a female protector (!) in a neighbor who had taken pity on his sorry, disrepectful self, another employee.
    I saw him once in the great entryway lobby once, and loudly announced to all nearby that he was a sexual predator, and Billy – the ass ran to get the police! HA! He’s gone now, but certainly NOT forgotten, because his actions were not just once, but many, many times before I stood up and denounced him.
    The VA should have reached out for ME, advised he was banned, or some such. Heard nothing from the VA.

  10. A Fitch May 25, 2021 at 10:58 am

    There is no safety. I worked at a VA facility and was assaulted. supervisors went out of their way to minimize the event and cover it up. Ended up quitting because I couldn’t handle the experience. Wasn’t safe as a veteran or an employee.

  11. Jessica Morris May 25, 2021 at 10:16 am

    What will the security do? Zero tolerance means nothing at any of the facilities I have been to. Myself and other younger female veterans experience harassment constantly. Many of my friends won’t even go to the VA because of it and don’t have access to adequate healthcare outside of it. With the prevalence of MST, it’s understandable.

    My last experience with harassment at the VA was me confronting (in a polite manner) a man about it and two security guards posturing around me. I was not yelling, I was not cursing, I was not raising my voice, being aggressive, or violating the personal space of the man who had been inappropriate. Nothing was done to him.

    Zero tolerance is an nice policy, but without any repercussions, nothing will change.

    By the way, the security had witnessed the harassment themselves and do on a consistent basis because much of it happens where people congregate st the entrance of the hospital so it is easy for men to comment, leer, harass people as they walk in and out…security are posted right there doing nothing.

    Why should they be told when they are already witness to it and do nothing?

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