In a national survey of women Veteran primary care patients, one in four women Veterans reported experiencing harassment from other Veterans when they visit VA health care facilities. It’s our responsibility to end it.
This behavior does not honor or value the traditions of military service and will not to be tolerated at VA.
VA is committed to providing women Veterans care in safe and welcoming facilities. Through staff training, VA is increasing the awareness of harassment and its impact. We are identifying what can be done to address the inappropriate treatment of women Veterans and staff.
Harassment is disruptive to the overall Veteran experience and impacts access to care. Through action and accountability, all of us can significantly impact Veterans’ and all visitors’ experiences when they visit VA.
VA recognizes—and is responding to—the issue of harassment and the need for greater respect for women Veterans.
All Veterans should receive health care in environments that attend to their dignity, safety, and privacy.
- Women Veterans served along-side men and deserve the same VA benefits and services free from harassment and disrespect.
- Women’s health clinics provide gender-sensitive environments welcoming to female Veterans. This same environment should extend to all areas of VA hospitals and clinics.
- VA’s Women Veterans Call Center can be reached by calling or texting 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636). Trained staff are available to provide women Veterans, their families, and caregivers assistance with VA services and resources.
- The Office of Mental Health Services has a Military Sexual Trauma Support Program and offers free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to sexual trauma.
What is harassment?
VA defines patient harassment as unwelcome physical, non-verbal, or verbal behavior that interferes with a Veteran’s access to and sustained engagement with VA health care.
Harassment creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive health care environment. Examples: “You’re too pretty to be a Veteran,” or “Hey baby, come sit next to me.”
Our research shows the most prevalent inappropriate behaviors are gender and sexual harassment. Failure to recognize women as Veterans is gender harassment. This happens when someone asks a woman Veteran if she is accompanying her husband to an appointment. It happens when someone questions her status as a Veteran by asking about the legitimacy of a piece of clothing that identifies a branch or era of service.
VA acknowledges that other patients, as well as staff, are also subject to harassment. Whether unwanted behavior involves a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, race, or ethnicity, it is unacceptable. VA is coordinating efforts to address harassment across the spectrum.
If you experience or witness these behaviors, it is not a compliment. It’s harassment.
- Catcalls, whistles, stares
- Leering or ogling
- Telling women to smile
- Telling women Veterans they are too pretty to be Veterans
- Sexual innuendoes, suggestive remarks
- Following or cornering someone
Patricia M. Hayes, Ph.D., is the Chief Consultant for VHA Women’s Health Services