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tv   Hearing on Sexual Harrassment Issues in the Veterans Affairs Department  CSPAN  July 27, 2020 1:30pm-2:52pm EDT

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people engaged in public policy. when you're that good, that they can strong and invaded, sometimes you think you can discard public reaction or political reaction. >> tonight 8:00 p.m. eastern on the communicators on. house subcommittee hearing to examine sexual harassment issu issues. what steps they are taking to ensure safe environments for women, lgbtq persons and address ongoing sexual harassment claims. this is the first panel for this hearing. >> i ask unanimous consent for our colleague to participate in today's hearing should she be able to attend. we have a number of members participating remotely. i like to go over items members participating remotely. make sure you contact our
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technical support you can resolve your issues immediately. under a member unable to be on the committee and subcommittee policy that members remotely remain would not recommend like turning microphone on and off during an in person hearing. background noise interview member to speak. you unmute your microphone and pause a couple of seconds before speaking so we can hear everything you say. if you wish to be recognize, raise your hand using the race hand function unmute your microphone and asked to be recognized. in order to ensure everything is captured on the lifestream, i asked members pause for two or three beginning to speak. if you wish to have a document inserted into the record, ask
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for unanimous consent and have your staff e-mail the document to veterans affairs during mal we'll be putting the repository. keep in mind you will need to refresh page as it does not automatically update members will rest in order of seniority questioning witnesses today. this will make it easier to ensure all members have an opportunity recognized. does any member have a question hearing not, i recognized myself for an opening statement. today's witnesses include officials and experts important knowledge and perspectives from inside the department including the acting deputy secretary pamela hours will hear from experts at the government accountability office disabled american veterans lastly, the ga released a report titled sexual
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harassment inconsistent policies and information hinder the effort to protect employees. the gao findings provide insight to whether they are doing and address sexual harassment. being not doing enough the ongoing pervasiveness of sexual harassment in his patient's ability to get clear and employees of the job effectively is deeply troubling to you is report the eighth heading in the right direction here the pace must increase and more work must be done to ensure the safety of all. the department must make addressing sexual harassment, higher priority and read the written this is written testimony, a clear pattern emerged. department of veterans affairs is moving too slowly in addressing shortcomings and policies and procedures to address sexual harassment. during today's hearing, i will ask why va will take months and years to increment what seems to me, straightforward recommendations.
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the department laid out basic and critical changes involving managers charge for sexual harassment 2024. this is an issue is a problem, at least two years ago. the panel needs to know why it will take four years to implement. the has not agreed to adhere about must be in charge of sexual harassment policies within the department leadership structure attentional conflicts of interest with guarding how va oversees sexual-harassment process and this must be fixed. there are other examples. the va doesn't require reporting of all sexual harassment complaints resulting in underreporting and less effective oversight be a hopes to correct this by the end of 2021. this is a problem the department has known about for quite some time i joined with eight my colleagues including the chairs and ranking members of the house and senate veterans affairs
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committee's, urging the department to implement all of the recommendations and va expedite its current timetable. the issue of sexual harassment is an important priority for me and many on both sides of the aisle. i hope today will see a commitment va along with actions they plan to take. it proves to us they are making prevention a top priority. i like to recognize my colleagues, delivering opening remarks you may have. >> thank you. today's hearing is entitled safety for all, ending sexual harassment in the department of veterans affairs this is our objective but admittedly, it's a broad one. employee harassment and patient harassment could, on their own, somewhat separate hearing. one thing that true for all forms of sexual harassment, all
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the mandatory training in the world will not end it completely. in order to achieve our goal, individuals employees and veterans alike to treat one another with respect and order to change the va's culture. sexual harassment does happen, despite our best efforts, management must be committed to holding employees and veterans accountable for their actions. lead through accountability can we bring sexual-harassment at the va to an end. when sexual-harassment of the va employee occurs, management is responsible for ensuring that employees have access to programs that are efficient, effective and fair. gao's recent report on sexual harassment of va employees identified numerous issues that are ripe for improvement versus harassment prevention program or hpp. pp was in 2017 the intention of
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preventing harassment before it becomes a model. his is a lot of objective support. gao's report found, yet failed to finalize the directives implementing guidance for the 4-year-old program preventing it from bubbling at objectives completely. additionally, it's my understanding hpp is only comprised of nine full-time employees. nine full-time staff seems to me, to be an adequate for the departmentwide 390,000 employees. i hope today to discuss va's commitment to this program and get assurances from the epa directives will be finalized this year in the program staff appropriately to serve va employees across the country. next, gao found an apparent
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conflict of interest in va's equal employment opportunity for eeo structure. specifically, the alignment of the agency eeo director and the office of the assistant secretary for human resources and administration. va cannot concur with the recommendation to realign the director and efficiency identified by the equal climate committee or eeoc. removing this potential conflict of interest to me but i believe it is complicated so i would like to explore why that is. another area of concern one not discussed in the report is the timeliness of the cases to the most recent, data reported by va, it takes an average roughly of 1100 days to process an eeo complaint when the employee requests a hearing before the eeoc. i understand some of this attributed to the eeoc but three
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years to process a complaint does not inspire confidence in the system working efficiently or effectively. in fact, according to gao, the 2016 merit systems protection board survey found 47% of va employees felt their charges of sexual harassment would be resolved in a fair and just matter. i hope today to explore the ways in which we can increase trust in the system and reduce the time it takes to run a fair and just decision. i want to turn to patient harassment. it's evident from the testimony submitted in this case the patient on patient harassment occurs frequently and affects women at higher rates. no veteran deserves to suffer the indignity is described in
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the testimony. moreover, we know one in four female veterans and one in 100 screen positive for military sexual trauma. after the recent tragic death of vanessa, an army soldier stationed at fort who sexually harassed and brutally murdered via member, many more servicewomen and women veterans have come forward about the abuse harassment they experience while serving in uniforms. it's unacceptable they might come to va, a place intended to heal and experience similar harassment and abuse by their fellow veterans and our employees. i take from the va's right testimony, the va can and must do better to create a self and welcoming environment for all. i don't have to tell you the importance of the initiative
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problems. when you have to take initiative. as the second most senior boy of the department, you have the power to gain the initiative and make real and meaningful change. veterans, employees and stakeholders are listening and they are counting on you. for my time expires, i would be remiss if i did not recognize that today, colonel powers first time testifying before his committee, and i want to let you know, did you graduate from this high school? the new one on the old one. >> an old one. >> the old one was located in berkeley, the new one in seven where i grew up and we used to beat them regularly on the court but was one of the competitions that when it was over, we went all out, enjoyed ice cream
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together and that's how it should be to thank you for being here. with that, i yield back. >> i could go for some after the hearing today, i'm sure you all agree but we welcome you and are pleased you're here. i'd like to turn things over to the women's veterans cap force for five minutes of opening comments thank you for holding this important hearing today including the women's veterans task force and a voice to the hearing. yesterday stood outside the capital with my colleagues and women's demanding justice servicewomen and women veterans : the murder of vanessa. she told her family she was being sexually harassed by a fellow soldier before she went missing in april. his story resonates with millions of women veterans who have experienced so much, and violence at the hands of those
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who are supposed to have their backs. that includes their experiences at the va agency responsible for providing benefits to survivors of sexual violence safe place for all who enter its doors. today we will discuss the prevalence of sexual harassment within the va. much of today's hearing will focus on finding government accountability office report that found inconsistent and incomplete policies and information hinder the va's efforts to protect their employees. the results of the report are alarming. i was stunned to learn the policy and accountability falls regarding harassment of employees are nearly identical to those regarding sexual harassment of drones patients. while i welcome va's acceptance of six of gao seven information to address employee harassment,
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i share my colleagues concerns the timeliness stage to implement these recommendations will take far too long. women employees and women veterans have shared their experiences of sexual and gender harassment within va's walls for years. we also know black women and lgbtq veterans are disproportionately impacted. one in four women veterans experience sexual or gender harassment at va medical facilities across the country. one in three black women veterans experience sexual harassment and medical facilities across the country. these numbers are probably far higher because va does not mandate reporting a sexual harassment complaint. in the statement for the record, paralyzed veterans of america share the story of one of the women veteran members whose physical limitations made her particularly vulnerable when she was sexually harassed by a male
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turn in her hospital room. this kind of trauma causes at least 20% of women veterans to delay or skip it entirely seeking lifesaving healthcare. we are out of time and we need corrective action now. it's a resource issue i expect the va will share with us and with the appropriators what they need to meet a more accelerated timeline. while i want to recognize the efforts of any in the va, i must also highlight a contradiction va's testimony which says, secretary wilkie emphasized during his first few weeks of secretary and again in december and his annual message, va will not tolerate behaviors that create intimidating, offensive or hostile environments.
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yet, we still have a culture of misogyny which continues to create an environment of intimidation and hostility for too many women veterans and women employees. statements for the records for today's hearing, multiple veteran organizations highlighted the case of a woman veteran who happens to be on my staff. while on her way to an appointment, she was sexually harassed and assaulted at the washington d.c. va even though the incident took place in a public space, she had to report for different va employees before the police were called. survivors of military sexual harassment feel it's an attack on all survivors because they don't feel heard, they feel disrespected and they feel lack of recognition that sexual harassment still occurred in an unacceptable rate within the va and the old boys club culture that devalues women persists. additionally, women va employees are still experiencing high levels of sexual and gender
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harassment. in 2016, the system protection board survey found the va had the second highest rate sexual harassment of women employees in the entire executive branch at 26%. yet, between 2016 -- 18, the va only results 15 cases of sexual harassment. the house acted on this issue in november when we passed my bill, a sampson, the house version include a provision that would address sexual harassment and assault at ba. we still need senate action on this bill. gao report makes it clear what needs to be done. inconsistent and incomplete policies are putting employees, patients, caregivers and anyone else on va's property at risk. without an honest, clear and genuine recognition of a problem the top, a successful field
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system with security measures built into every step along the way, it will never happen. we need a system in place now, not years from now and the va must begin today to approach this issue with a real sense of urgency. i look forward to today's testimony from the va, gao and disabled american veterans and a productive discussion on this critically important issue and with that, thank you again and i yelled back the rest of my time. >> i would now like to recognize chairman of the full committee for five minutes. >> thank you. i want to note the importance of this hearing. the subcommittee and focused much needed attention on the ongoing and widespread problem of sexual harassment via facilities. i recognize the department has
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made progress. i must echo what others have stated though. we need to see va leadership take many more steps, in a timely manner for an effective policies and procedures. as shown by the gao in its report on va's sexual harassment released last week, and effective policies not only mean fewer employees have the protection they need for the very mission of va's center. gao and its report released last week, many failings by va in the efforts to address sexual harassment putting all allegations by employees are being reported through any sort of centralized system. in other words, is a severe undercounting of allegations reported else in an action by the department. this is not the first time gao
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raised similar concerns. there was a 1990 gao report titled inquiry into sexual harassment issues selected va medical centers. let me say that again, a 1993 gao report. that report specifically pointed out the importance of full reporting of allegations through a central system as well as mandatory sexual harassment training and other steps, so much of what we are hearing about today. the va employees simply cannot wait for years or even months before the gao recommendations are implemented in other are taken. i also know the department is not working effectively with organized labor in order to address sexual harassment. labor unions can be an asset in
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working with in communicating with employees. there are also a viable form of protection and support. i urge va to engage with organized labor on this issue. so i look forward to your testimony and i appreciate your participation in this proceeding today. i look forward to hearing from today's witnesses and i yield back the balance of my time. >> thank you. will introduce the witnesses we have on our first panel. we have pamela powers, deputy secretary of the department of veterans affairs and she's accompanied by mr. dan, assistant secretary of human resources and administration and operations security and preparedness. doctor patricia haze, chief consultant of women's health services at the office of patient care services the veterans health administration.
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in ms. we left jackson, senior starters for the office chief of staff of the veterans health administration. his powers will provide testimony for va witnesses. please pause two to three seconds before you begin speaking so the recording will capture all your words and do so when answering members questions as well. >> thank you. this is my first testimony in front of this committee. also my first testimony on any committee so i would ask you to go easy on me but i know that probably won't be the case. thank you for inviting me to discuss quickly important topic of making sure va provides a safe and welcoming environment
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for patients and families and our staff. i know you are all familiar with the gao report about sexual harassment in the government which says incidents happen more frequently at ba and any other federal agency. today i want to walk you through the steps the va has taken that data was collected in 2016. at the end of the last administration and describe to you how va is not the same four years ago. sharon, this is an organization that has a safe environment, it's something secretary wilkie takes seriously. his first few weeks on the job, he sent a message from the top that va will not tolerate any behavior that creates an intimidating offensive or hostile environment. he's reaffirmed that to our staff and he consistently sets a tone from the top. the 30 year veteran, this is
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personal. i also use va healthcare so it's personal. it's of utmost importance to me we have an organization i'm proud to share with my brothers and sisters. we have ongoing targeted customer service efforts and employee engagement efforts, enhancement to significant outreach to women veterans. a few weeks ago, i hosted a virtual women's group hosted 1600 women's veterans followed by two virtual events that reached almost 200,000 women and it allowed us to answer over
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1000 questions. we also have a dedicated women's health center made 1.7 million outreach calls since conception. last year, we launched a national campaign to prevent all harassment in va and the campaign includes increased training for medical and support staff, including police officers and ensure they are aware of inappropriate behavior and have the tools to stop it, report it and prevent it. the campaign includes distribution of information for veterans and visitors and how to treat everyone with respect in our facilities. last year, we launched vha harassment and assault policy reporting task force to improve our system of reporting, sexual harassment and assault but also improve the services we offer the targets of his treatment. it's not just about tracking this, is taking action to make sure it doesn't happen again. because we can always improve and we are learning organization, we welcome the report. there in the process of updating our policies and we will review training requirements. based on the results we've seen
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so far, especially over the last couple of years, we are optimistic our efforts are making a difference. we're serving more women veterans than ever before and retreat more than 550,000 women, more than three decades, three times the number we care for two decades ago. women increasingly trust ba. we saw women's va jump 10% of. strong evidence the culture is changing for women employees. our efforts to improve employee experience has helped ba boost
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ratings from 17th out of 18 best places to work in large organizations actions in six in a few short years. as a significant jump. 60% of our 400,000 employees are women and women are also managing key assets of this large organization. while we are seeing progress, it's not something an organization pursues for just a few weeks or short years. it's a constant undertaking and the va is committed to cultural change for the long haul. so every woman who wears our nation's uniform knows this is her ba. thank you and i'm happy to answer questions and discuss this very important topic. >> thank you very much. a reminder to my colleagues members should pause two or three seconds before speaking so all your words are captured. i recognize myself in five minutes. thank you for your testimony today and i can gather from your comments that it's fair to say there's a lot more work ahead to address the widespread problem of sexual harassment, would you agree? >> i would say it's an ongoing process but we have certainly adjusted a lot over the last
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couple of years. >> i appreciate that. the timelines outlined in the department's response, i believe it extends far into the future. establishing actions and handbooks won't be completed until sometime next year, changes involving managers, sexual harassment will not see completion until 2024. i joined my colleagues in a letter to the secretary asking the department expedite implementation of the recommendations and i want to know, what can be done to implement these improvements more quickly? >> thank you. we are working to implement the recommendations and the realignment of the program managers to secretary for hr na, we started that process in 2017.
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national cemetery administration is complete, it's realigned, our offices it has also realigned. we are working with them but the large part of our organization is our veterans health administration we have to realign 134 eeo program managers from vha to hr na and that comes with the resource requirement. it comes out of the budget which historically, it keeps getting cut. i think we just got another 59 million cut. i think what a lot of people don't realize is that that budget is overhead orders quarters, it's specific programs such as eeo we need that funding for. we believe it's a priority, we
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want to move that over but the reason it will take until 2024 is because we need the resources to do that and then hire 134 of those which takes time. >> glad you mentioned the alignment has happened. ...
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>> we completely agree with that, which is why it makes sense to align it under hrna. >> before we go there, just request that you provide us with specifics about budgetary or other needs to cut down on that 2024 time frame. i hope we can work together on that, and i note i filed an amendment to military construction veterans' affairs appropriations to specifically address eeo realignment for vha.
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we need to hear from you in real-time about how we can refine this and partner on the efforts that need to be undertaken. i appreciate that. my time is running out. and i just wondered if we could get to that issue of eeo hr leadership. i think you were wanting to turn it over, but this is the one area where we didn't receive concurrence. i would like an explanation from you as to why not. >> it's department heads. the way we have administrations, the different headquarters, different missions. in the va as we go forward and look at our constituency, we have 10 million people covered under the va eeo program including our employees, our veterans, our affiliates, our trainees, and so i'm open to a different structure than what we currently have, but as the deputy suggested, we don't really know what that looks like to not create additional conflict under the structure that we have today. so i look forward to working
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with this committee, with the eeoc, i understand this there are about 66% is what i'm told of agencies that comply with that eeoc directive. that means 34% of us believe we have it right in a different structure. i would be very happy to have that dialogue as we go forward. >> thanks. i'm sure this will be a point of conversation. my time is up. i will return it over to ranking member bergman for any questions he may have. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i kind of want to put a capstone comment to make sure i understand the chairman's last question and your all's response. in organizational terms, what i heard you say hr and the va is more policy oriented -- operational. >> yes, sir. >> i can understand if that is in fact the case, so i guess not to be answered now, but to be contemplated and thought for
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future conversation, is hr long-term in the va, should it stay policy, as it relates to other agencies across the spectrum of federal government, because if you're trying to have a meeting, and the hr folks show up, and one agency sends its policy folks and the other agency sends its operational folks, we automatically have a disconnect, so i'm appreciative of your education at least for me on this case of where we differ, and there is a difference between policy making stats and all of that and the operational side of running the business. okay. so let's talk a little bit about the eeo process. as the department's eeo director, i would like to ask you about the eeo process. according to the data posted on
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the website, the average days pending for an employee's eeo complaint in which a hearing was requested is over 1100 days. i imagine that an employee could lose faith in the process let alone track of what's going on over that course of time waiting three years for resolution of a sexual harassment complaint. would you please help me understand why the eeo process takes so long. what steps are within the va's control? what steps are outside the va's control? and what is the va doing to -- it's one thing to improve timeliness, but you cannot forsake quality just because you did it faster. so please elaborate. >> thank you for the question, general bergman. i too am very frustrated with the time it takes.
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i will try to walk you through as quickly as i can which part we have responsibility for and which part we turn over to other agencies. so first of all, we would very much like to prevent it from happening in the first place. when it doesn't happen, within 45 days under the current policy and eeo guidance, the individual reports back to our eeo office. we then have 30 days to meet with the individual in an attempt to resolve that. the fact is, we have over 50% of the cases that come to us, we call those informal, that are actually resolved. the other 50% have the opportunity to go to dispute resolution. we very much like to have that resolution done. that gives us another 90 days. so the part that i control is 90 days of the resolution, up to 90 days in the 30 days to investigate, if you will. at that point, if the individual doesn't accept the resolution, we give them notice that they have the authority to go to the
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eeoc or other avenues for complaint. once it goes to the eeoc and administrative judges for hearings, i lose all of that. our goal is to have everything resolved formally. the more timely individuals come to us and the more dispute resolution we can do the better we are at that, but once it's turn over to the eeoc, then i will defer to them. >> i know my time is running short. what i heard you say is 50% of the cases are resolved. >> yes, sir. >> so the remainder 50% you do the -- you get your work done within 90 days. >> that is correct, sir. >> of that remaining 50%, what percentage of that goes past the 90 days and goes into the, you know, the tunnel to nowhere? >> so it depends on the individual, and the individual gets to select what their next course of action is, either to
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go to the eeoc or to another office to complain with that, but frankly, if the claim is accepted and not all of them are accepted, that's up to the eeoc to accept that, that is, it fits their category of timeliness, it is one of the protected categories, those sorts of things, then it will go to the eeoc and we will track it through its finish, but we don't see it from that point until they make a final decision. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i yield back. >> thank you, i will now recognize chairwoman brownley for five minutes. >> [inaudible] -- and i think i wanted to ask a couple of questions of the secretary. so -- and again, you have done a great job so far, so hang in there. not so bad. but during a visit to philadelphia, my staff went to a site visit in philadelphia and found that a lot of the
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antiharassment posters had been taken down from public spaces, and that they might be creating a hostile environment for women veterans -- wait, i'm sorry. these posters had been taken down and it was actually the male veterans who were taking them down because they feared that they were -- that they were being blamed for, you know, sexual harassment and that sort of insinuation, and so my question is, really, are you seeing this? certainly it happens in philadelphia. i guess the question is how is va addressing a pushback like that from veteran men who take antiharassment messages sort of as personal criticism? >> that's unfortunate, ma'am. i'm not aware of that, but i
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will certainly look into that, you know, after this hearing. we do take that very seriously. while i don't believe we have a systemic issue of harassment in va, i do know that it happens. some male veterans do not treat our female veterans well. but i would say that we have an older generation of veterans, primarily older generation that we serve in our va hospitals. they served at a time when there weren't a lot of women in uniform. i'm not making excuses for them, certainly not. but what i'm saying i can't change the mind of that 75-year-old. and i can certainly and we in va can certainly address the behavior, which is why we set up that task force, which is why we have the stop harassment now campaign, and actually ms. jackson, would you like to talk a little bit more -- >> i only have a little bit of
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time. and i hear what you're saying, but i think that, you know, i'm only citing one experience in philadelphia, but my sense is that there's more of this peppered throughout the va, and i just -- i bring it up because i think it is as you pursue more training, that sort of thing, i think this needs to be, you know, incorporated. it is certainly for all employees, but i think there has to be sort of a focus on this behavior, and because even if somebody is 75 years old, if they can see that they are actually acting that way, they want to fix it, but they don't see that they're actually acting that way, and so i think through, you know, different simulations and so forth and training, we can correct some behaviors. the other question that i really wanted to get to is the issue of
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okay, so we're all accepting the prevalence of employee harassment at the va. you are testifying that you're already undertaking a lot of steps towards addressing this. i just have to ask, why in the last three years, that we're only 15 cases of employee harassment have resulted in corrective action? i just need to understand when we know that one in four women experience sexual harassment, that over this period of time, only 15 cases have been corrected. so to me, that just underscores maybe some of the pitfalls within the past processees, you know, of addressing this issue. there's got to be more than 15 cases. i mean, it -- when you look at
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all of the statistics, there is no way that it can just be 15. >> uh-huh. >> so, you know, if you could just address that. >> madame chair, i agree that we definitely need to address it. it is one of the reasons why we stood up a task force last year to look at how we report and encourage those to come forward. we know that it's underreported. we know that not everyone that experiences harassment comes forward. but we want our veterans, and we want our staff to come forward. the team on the eeo side have led a multidepartment effort as well, tabletop exercises and are really looking into the reporting structures and our training as well and whether or not we have the right training. the gao report didn't say that we don't have training. it said that we have a lot of old training, and it's not consistent, and that's really
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where we're focusing our efforts. we had the chief learning officer -- we can talk a bit more about that -- but that learning officer is going to look at learning across the entire department, and whether or not we have it right, and we want to be focused because we know our employees' time is valuable, and we want to have that right training, but back to your earlier comment, i want to talk a little bit about the bystander training that we just stood up. the contract kicked off in july. that bistander training is for our veterans and staff to identify what harassment looks like and to prevent it and stop it and really take care of it. so we've got a lot of efforts underway. we just need to make sure that they are focused. >> thank you very much, and i apologize for exceeding my time limit, but i yield back. >> thank you, chairwoman brownley. next i would like to recognize
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ms. radowagon for five minutes. i remind you to pause two or three seconds before you begin your questioning. >> thank you to the chair and the ranking member for holding this hearing today in conjunction with the veterans task force. thank you to the witnesses for their testimony. no one should be made to feel uncomfortable due to their gender, period. i acknowledge it can be a delicate topic with both personal and legal ramifications. out of respect to those who have been the victims of sexual harassment or assault -- [inaudible]. in facilities meant to serve and heal our nation's heroes. in 2012, congress the directed the va to implement a policy on
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their reporting and tracking sexual assault and other safety incidents that occur at va medical centers. here we are eight years later, still wrestling with the data collection issue what is the va doing to capture information about sexual harassment including sexual assault on va property? >> thank you for that question. i would agree that we were still wrestling with it. it was about a year and a half ago where i was looking at the congressional report that had come forward. i didn't understand the numbers. the numbers didn't make sense, and i understood that half of them were not even assaults by veterans that had the mental capacity, which is why we stood up this task force to really look into that, and it is also why ms. jackson, if you could, if you could talk about the
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sexual assault dashboard that we have now in place. >> we just launched the sexual assault incident reporting dashboard because we were concerned about our cmr report from last year. you know, we had 228 allegations of sexual assault out of the 107 million veterans appointments in patient and outpatient visits. so we were concerned. we wanted to understand it. we established the dashboard that gives us clarity on was it an employee on employee? was it veteran on veteran? if there was no charges filed, why not? was it because the victim decided not to prosecute? was it because the suspect was incapacitated? we track it all the way through victim recovery. we want to know what we're doing to help the victim. we are really getting at trying to understand it, and we want to reduce our numbers. i'm a marine veteran.
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i care about this also very passionately. >> i don't know if i have enough time for another question. i can't see -- >> go right ahead. >> my question here, the gao found that policy did not always reflect the current va policy on sexual harassment. to address that, gao recommended that the office of resolution management to review all existing va and administration policy to make sure that they are current, complete and aligned with va sexual harassment policy. is the process still dissimilar at each va facility, that different policies are required? it seems that other than the name of a point of contact, the policy and procedures should be the same across va. >> yes, ma'am, thank you for the question.
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first of all, let me be perfectly clear. there is one single document that is the overarching policy in the va, and that's the document that the secretary signs out every year. that's important because every other policy document in the va comes from that. it's also important because the policy document from which all of our training is established. and i think what i would like everybody to know that 95 plus percent of all our employees today as of this day have taken that training and have reviewed this document which talks about how to report, what to report, what the expectations are, etc. that said, i do think that there have been a lot of efforts across the va in a lot of different areas, in that we need to have a central location, and that's what the deputy has asked us to do, is to stand up the task force. in the past, we have had employee focus was in my office
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and orm. our patients were in patient advocacy offices. our police were reporting assault incidents. we have a workplace violence prevention insider threat. and there were a lot of places across the va, and so the task force that the deputy is leading and has tasked us to look at will bring all of those together so we can have a central place to not only record but more importantly to investigate and to take action and perhaps even most importantly to ensure that our victims are given the care that is appropriate for the situation. so thank you for that question. >> thank you, chairman. i yield back the balance of my time. >> thank you very much, ms. radewagon. now i will recognize the chairman for five minutes. >> thank you, chairman. deputy secretary powers as i said in my opening statement, welcome and, you know, i hope this is not going to be too jarring for you, the first
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experience. it is good to see you here. your testimony made clear your sentiment to make addressing sexual harassment at va a priority. and i appreciate your intention, and that of your department colleagues who have joined you for moving va forward. however, va employees need strong timely action if we are going to have an agency where everyone is safe from sexual harassment. i joined with eight of my congressional colleagues in writing to the secretary urging that va implement the recommendations made by gao in its report on sexual harassment. several of those who signed the letter are here today, including chairman pathis, ranking member bergman, as well as chairwoman brownley and chairwoman custer who is not here. the other signatures include full committee ranking member dr. rowe as well as the chair and ranking member of the senate veterans' affairs committee, senator ernst.
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that's quite a list. all of us agree, all of us agreed on the importance of the issue and the validity of the recommendations and the need for va to expedite the timetable for implementation. ms. powers, i heard your response to chairman papis when he asked you about your timetable for implementation, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, i have to ask why can't we move more quickly? for example, we all agree that improved training can and should be required for va esm employees, but the department doesn't plan on making the new training module available till the end of next year. please explain why the delay. >> yes, chairman, thank you for that question. training is important. every hour that we spend, you know, takes away from patient care that we could be providing the patient, so we have to make sure, you know, as an
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organization that we have the right training at the right time, and that's why we hired a chief learning officer, mr. sitterly, can you talk a little bit about the effort we have underway to make sure that we have focused training in this area? >> excuse me, i'm not really wanting to sit through about why we need the training. i perfectly understand why we need the training, and you alluded to the excuse which is you're going to take people away from patient care and that you need the right training materials. i'm sorry, i read you a statement from 1993gao report. since 1993, it took you to come up with training materials since 1993? i'm growing impatient on this. >> if i can comment on one point on that. it is not a problem of not having training.
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we have training. we have too much training. we don't have consistent training. we have an overarching training policy, but then every administration has developed their own. some of it's outdated. some of it is not needed. unless i'm missing something, mr. sitterly, that's really the problem, is we need to make sure this is focused. >> mr. chairman, if i may, like i talked about the policy, everybody's working hard to ensure that we get this right. there has been a hesitancy to fund the general administration account so that we have oversight across the entire va to do this. so we are concerned as the deputy said is not that we don't have enough training, we have too much training, and we've allowed everybody to put the training -- >> mr. sitterly, are you telling me that you're asking congress to fund specifically the general account, as you just mentioned, with maybe -- with a proviso saying this money specifically needs to be spent on this
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training? is that -- you've been lacking that funding to be able to do this? >> sir, the 59 million dollars cut that the deputy mentioned earlier affects my ability to do police force modernization, affects my ability to do section 505 of the mission act so we can put a manpower management system in place, also affects our ability to do labor negotiations. the money that comes into the general administration account, thaul all is spent with manpower, if you will. we have allowed this to be distributed out across. in our talent management system, which is our system of primary training for the va, we have 285 courses that address workplace violence. we have 130 courses that address disruptive behaviors. the deputy has charged us with ensuring that we get our arms around what is the right training for the right people at the right time so that we have
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deliberate not only how tos but what ifs on all of this training? to the point one hour of mandatory training across 400,000 employees is 400,000 hours that they don't get to contact our veterans, and so we want to make sure that we don't add to it. we want to make sure frankly that we have less, but that it's just in time, it is micro learning, and so we're working very hard to do that, along with the bystander training and such. >> i'm over my time. i want to suggest this timetable is a little -- it's too far out for i think members of congress. we don't understand why it has to be so far out. if you need more money, i think you need to come back and tell us this is what we need because in order to get the sexual harassment and to be held accountable for it, because this is a high priority for both sides of the aisle. i yield back, mr. chairman. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i look forward to working with you. >> thank you. >> thank you, mr. chairman.
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i would like to recognize mr. bost for five mints. -- minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. ms. powers in your testimony you highlighted the increased confidence of the number of veterans using the va services, which is wonderful. however, with that increase in the number of veterans coming into the va for medical care, what exactly is the va doing to have a concrete definitive policy in place to reduce the amount of patient on patient sexual harassment? >> thank you for that question. we have a lot of efforts underway. the reason why i'm very optimistic, but i'm not satisfied is we -- on the optimistic, our trust scores among our veterans have increased dramatically over the last couple of years. as i mentioned in my opening statement, they have gone up among our women veterans 10% in the last year. we survey a lot of our veterans.
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we have a large population after every appointment. i'm one of them as i mentioned earlier. i get my healthcare in va, and i receive the survey right afterwards, and i would say that we had 17.8% response rate which is in the industry standards about 10%, so we're pretty confident in our numbers that our veterans trust the healthcare that they are getting and that it is in a safe and welcoming environment. 87% of our women trust the healthcare that they're getting. but we're not stopping there. it is not -- we're continually transforming this department to meet the needs of all of our veterans. >> thank you. let me go on -- when i tell you that i'm going to go down the same path as the chairman and also the whole committee chairman and i think, you know, we don't want to beat a dead horse, but this one is going to get beat. okay?
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here's why. i really need to understand this. we all have to answer to our constituents, and our constituents are our veterans and all of those who have va facilities, and when you get recommendations and you agree with the recommendations and then you say it is going to take to 2024 to put in the changes necessary, the constituents that i deal with that i have to talk to i think they think that there is rocket time, there is standard time, there is turtle time and then there's bureaucracy time. the problem with bureaucracy time is no one can understand why it is that the federal government always has to take too long to implement so many things that are vitally important, and this is vitally important. and i -- we're asking these questions because we, even as members of congress, which doesn't move quick, are having trouble trying to figure out why the va is going to take this
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long to implement the changes necessary on such a vital issue, and i don't know how to get the answers that we need to go back to our constituents and say yes, we are dealing with this, 2014 -- 2024, we're dealing with it. >> i would say that there's only one aspect of the gao recommendations that will take till 2024, and that's what we talked about earlier, realigning the veteran health administration employees under dan sitterly in hrna, we can't do that without the budget to do so, and we can't do that with the current budget. we have made that request in our budget proposal. the rest of the recommendations, we're already moving out on, and they won't take that long. the training we just talked about, but i would like to go back to the problem at hand is sexual assault and sexual harassment, and we want to make
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sure that this organization has a zero-tolerance policy. we have a very targeted effort on not only employee engagement, but also veteran experience. on the employee engagement side, we have an entire effort. we do an all employee survey every year, and it asks a lot of questions of our employees, and it shows what the culture is in every single small organization within va, and we holds our leaders accountable from those scores. they're on all of our senior leaders' reports every year, and we have an entire office, the national center for organizational development that is there to help those leaders of underperforming organizations build up that culture and be better. they give them the tools and resources. we track this very closely. every time i go to a facility around our nation, it is one of the things i look for. i look at the culture. i look at the women's health
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center and making sure -- i look at the posters on the wall to make sure they have those up there. on the veteran experience side the reason why we see such progress and the reason i'm optimistic that we're moving in the right direction is our scores have jumped up a lot because we have such a targeted veteran experience office. we have an entire office, dr. linda davis and her team are doing fantastic things to make sure we provide world class customer service, so we know right away where our issues are, and that's another thing we track very closely. so i would say it is a culture change. it's multifacetted, a lot of efforts underway, but i'm very optimistic. >> my time's expired. i yield back. >> thank you very much. next up i have ms. rice for five minutes, and i would just remind ms. rice to pause two or three seconds before you begin your questioning. i will now recognize you. >> thank you mr. chairman. calling for the va's
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exclusionary motto to be updated. i was extremely disappointed by your letter which not only dismissed our request but questioned the notion that the motto couldn't all be interpreted as discriminatory. i have met with women veterans who told me that the current model makes them feel invisible at va and exemplifies a culture and environment that does not equally recognize or respect their service. these women were made to feel like their service and experiences didn't matter to you and to the va. this creates a lack of trust in a system that is supposed to be there to support these women. i believe this issue is important and relevant to raise at today's hearing on sexual harassment in the department because it speaks to a cultural problem that continues to exist within the va. the prevalence of sexual harassment within va facilities is a significant barrier to care for women veterans. women va employees also experience high levels of sexual and gender harassment and many
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employees do not report harassment because of fear of retaliation or reprisal. cultural change starts at the top, and there is still work to be done to show veterans and va employees that the agency and its leadership are committed to taking harassment seriously. ms. powers, i want to give you a chance to update the remarks you made in your letter. are you prepared today to recognize that the current va model is exclusionary of women and lgbtq veterans? >> thank you for that question. i think this is a very important issue. i believe our motto is based upon a direct quote from lincoln's second inaugural address some 150 years ago. we have heard from women on both sides of this issue. personally i see the quote for what it is. it was a speech perhaps one of the greatest speeches of our
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entire history from a president who sought to heal a divided nation, and if you look at the entire speech, he talked about equity for all, and not just some, which is at the heart of this matter, and i believe that what matters more than the words on our building from a president, one of the best presidents we've ever had, what matters more is what happens when our veterans walk through our door and whether or not our women -- [speaking over each other] >> -- are welcome and feel safe. that's where we're focusing our efforts. >> ms. powers, that is the problem. when you walk in and see that motto and you are a woman, you immediately feel like you don't belong there. i recently spoke to a number of women veterans who explained what it's like to walk into a va hospital and see those words and then immediately before they even make it to the elevator to
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go up to the women's area of the hospital, they are subject to constant harassment. so the point is that even though when abraham lincoln spoke those words women were serving in the military. they may not have been on the battlefield, but they were certainly serving in other capacity, so why lincoln chose that word is, you know, obviously those are the words that he spoke, but over the course of history, we have changed mottos and ideas and policies, as time changes, women are serving more. more than 2 million women have worn the uniform of this great country of ours, and it seems ridiculous that the only reason not to change it that i have heard is that these are words of abraham lincoln, who as you said, was one of our greatest presidents. so you can imagine how upsetting it was then to hear mr. wilkie
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speak about -- responding to a specific question i asked about his support for the change in the motto. he said, you know, it is going to cost too much money, which is ridiculous. it has not been -- by cbo, but to say that it's ridiculous. especially since less than six months later, he talked about putting up a bronze plaque with the va motto on it at all 170 va cemeteries around the country, which would come to me at a hugely significant cost. it belies his claim that, you know, changing the motto has anything to do with finances. and let me just say that, you know, it's not that difficult to connect the fact that women are not included and recognized in the va's motto, with the fact that they get sub-par -- beyond sub-par treatment from their male colleagues. if you ever expect to do
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anything substantive and address the chronic epidemic of sexual harassment against women and men in the military, you have to start by not just actions that you take, but the words that represent the very institution that they are charged with defending. so i really hope that you will reconsider your position and stop making reference to words that were spoken many years ago because the reality of the military in 2020 is very different, and it has to change with the time, if we are ever going to give women the kind of equality that they deserve, for putting their lives on the line just like their male colleagues. thank you, mr. chairman, i yield back. >> thank you, ms. rice. with that i would like to recognize ms. underwood for five minutes. i would remind you to pause a couple seconds before you begin your questioning. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you to our panel of witnesses. the circumstances surrounding
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the killing of a specialist are just the most recent reminder that sexual harassment and assault are far too common within our armed forces. we know these experiences are both personally devastating for women in uniform and a critical threat to our force and readiness in national security. servicemembers who come home and seek care at the va should not experience more of the same. and it's our job as members of this committee to make sure that that doesn't happen. in february 2019, va released a study that found at least one in four women experience sexual harassment at the facilities. the basic culture of sexual harassment in va impact military readiness for the women veterans to utilize va care but still serve in a reserve or guard capacity? >> i would say i disagree with the premise that we have
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pervasive sexual harassment at the va. the data doesn't show that. there are instances in our va hospitals that we are seeking to address most definitely, but i don't agree that it is pervasive. i do believe that we need to have a culture that is safe and welcoming. that is imperative. no women -- no veteran should come into our facility and not feel safe or welcome. that is my goal, and that is what we are focused on creating that culture to make sure that that happens. >> well, i don't know how we could characterize one in four women experiencing this kind of harassment and not call it pervasive, but my question is really about the impact on readiness for r women veterans who serve in the guard or in a reserve capacity, and are you all doing anything to address that concern? >> i guess i'm misunderstanding
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your question. we don't see reserve and guard in our va hospitals. they're not eligible for va healthcare. >> okay. moving on, a gao report from july 2020 found that va does not require reporting of all sexual harassment complaints, specifically the report identified that not all managers who receive complaints may be required to report them to va centrally. policies and implementation of va regulations regarding sexual harassment can also differ by individual facility. how is the va working to ensure that regulations and procedures involving sexual harassment are uniform across your facilities? >> mr. sitterly, would you like to address that? >> yes, thank you. i think it's important to note that the gao study focused on the employee aspect of it in regards to sexual harassment, as a condition of employment and discrimination, and then we have the veteran piece that we're looking at as well. so the task force that the
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deputy has asked us to look at includes harassment and assault reporting across the entire enterprise which is why as we shift to bring this under orm is a huge undertaking to bring the resources to address both the clinical -- the patient care, the employee piece, the dispute resolution. it is handled differently depending on the con stitch went si. -- constituency. we're working that policy with our administrations. that's where the policy will come in that will have the interim guidance out next month on. thank you for the question. >> additionally that gao report found that va has incomplete and outdated policies information and training related to sexual harassment specifically va employee training lacks any in depth information necessary for effectively identifying and addressing sexual harassment. ms. powers what is the va doing to address these glaring holes in the training? >> thank you for that question. i believe we've already answered
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that, but i -- actually mr. sitter, can you talk a little bit about the targeted training that we're going to be providing? -- mr. sitterly? >> yes, thank you, once again, the overall mandatory training for everybody has been complied by over 9d 90% -- 95% of our employees. it is required within 90 days of on boarding. given the vast surge we have had with employees with the covid-19 thanks to the efforts of this congress it doesn't surprise that we're 5% of those people behind. that's our one training that's mandatory for everybody. in addition, we have over 400 courses that address workplace violence to include harassment, assault, disruptive behaviors, and so our effort is to bring all those courses together now that we have a chief learning officer on board with the va, through the talent development council that she's responsible for where we have representatives from the three
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administrations, the office of information technology and the board of veterans' affairs to ensure that we have captured the training with the policy and to deliver it for the right people at the right place at the right time in the right lesson objectives to get us where we need to be. thank you for the question. >> okay. well, you know, it sounds like there's a variety of different work streams and process and perhaps the next time you come and testify, we can just understand the comprehensive plan. how are we going to get there? how are we going to get there timely? it just seems a little bit frag mgted at this point. -- fragmented at this point. we are asking the va to confront this head on. epidemic of sexual harassment at the va is at a critical and moral point and a national security failure. i appreciate the opportunity to have the conversation an yield back. -- and i yield back. >> thank you very much. i would like to recognize ms. custer for five minutes.
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pause a couple seconds before you begin your questioning. >> thank you very much. i appreciate you welcoming me back to the committee for this important hearing. i have to say it is a bit depressing when chairwoman brownley and the chairman and i join the committee in 2013. this was one of the very first issues that we addressed. so change has been slow coming to the va. when the merit system protection board came out with its report two years ago, the numbers were simply appalling, and i called for action. i was pleased to work with ranking member bergman to help spur the gao's report into harassment of the va workforce, and now with the report in hand, we're at the next step in rectifying the problem. i'm very impressed with the gao's work on this report. they found glaring problems, and
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i'm glad that they did not mince words regarding va sexual harassment policies and the correct course of action. here's the bottom line, people who go into public service to care for our veterans deserve so much better than the status quo. and the same can be said to our veterans who seek treatment at the va. i know from having served on this committee for six years, that the va simply cannot serve our veterans effectively when staff and patients are victimized at such a pervasive rate. what's really troubling to me is that some of these issues identified by the gao are similar to those identified when the va patients complained about harassment that they experienced at va facilities. clearly these lessons need to be learned and taken to heart. course corrections are needed. and timing is of the essence. so i will work with my colleagues on the committee,
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including you, mr. chair, to see this gets done. the va should prioritize resolving these issues with greater speed. so deputy secretary powers, last year my colleague and i wrote a letter to the secretary calling on the d.a. to incorporate input from military sexual trauma survivors and survivor advocates within training for va staff who process claims concerning msc. building on that, as the va looks to move forward on this issue, would you commit to engaging the current and former employees who have experienced harassment and incorporate their insights and feedback into all improved or new training to address harassment in the workforce? >> thank you for that question. i'm committed to that. i think we have a comprehensive military sexual assault program in va. all of our veterans that come to va are screened for military
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sexual trauma and for ptsd and other areas. we have an mst coordinator at every va healthcare system and eligibility for mst is expansive. you know, our veterans don't have to show that they've, you know, had mst, they don't have to be -- it doesn't have to be part of their disability. they can come at any time. we don't have a wait. >> but do you have trauma informed training? excuse me, secretary powers, do you have trauma-informed training was the question, and would you include survivors of trauma in your processes? [speaking over each other] >> go ahead and talk through our training. >> i would like to be able to talk a little bit -- yes, we have trauma-informed training in terms of our sexual assault,
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sexual harassment. i want to say also we have been very -- we have a little delay here. we have worked very hard to include the voices of the veterans in our sexual harassment programs, training. we've had focus groups, but more than that, they have been informing us, and i heard your question about how can we involve employees in the development of these tools, and i can assure you that at the va level, the bystander training the training for the front line staff is very much focused on the employee level involvement. we do talk with employees in terms of how did this affect them when they are harassed by veterans or by employees? and part of the interactive training captures that because one of the most important things we know is that when we talk to veterans who do this behavior is that the one thing that impacts them is if they understand that what they're doing, it isn't
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just a political comment or a social comment, it is disrupting the care of their sister veterans, and that's been impactful -- a message that gets through to them. >> mr. chair, i apologize that i didn't start a stopwatch on my end, and i can't find a clock on your end. is there any time left, or shall i yield back? >> well, you're out of time, but if you have a quick one, we'll -- >> -- two members of the workforce who report harassment, and if i could get that answered, i would yield back, and thank you again. i'm proud of you in your role, and i'm grateful to be a part of this hearing. thank you very much. >> congresswoman, could you repeat that question? i think we missed the first part of it. >> sure. i'm sorry. the question is about the resources that are provided or offered to members of your workforce who report harassment.
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what are they offered, and in particular, with regard to trauma-informed response? >> well, we certainly have employee assistance programs. do you want to talk more about -- >> i really appreciate your comments, secretary powers, mr. sitterly, dr. hayes, and ms. jackson, thanks for being with us today. we will take a brief recess to set up our second panel so everyone stay close, and once again, appreciate your comments. >> thank you, mr. chairman. now introduces the witnesses on our second panel. we have ms. cindy brown barnes, director of the education workforce and income security team at the government accountability office and ms. joy elam, nat


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