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Hirono, Colleagues Demand VA Improve Care for Victims of Sexual Assault

~ Lawmakers call on VA to take immediate action to improve its readiness to treat veterans seeking care after experiencing a sexual assault ~

WASHINGTON, DC – Following a concerning Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) report finding significant shortfalls in care provided by VA to veterans who seek care after experiencing a sexual assault, U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, joined Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and 20 colleagues in sending a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, urging the Department to take immediate steps to improve the readiness of VA facilities and staff to address the needs of veterans.

“We urge the Department to work expeditiously to implement the recommendations in the [OIG] report and take a more proactive stance towards preparing facilities, both emergent and non-emergent, and staff for how to respond to encounters related to sexual assault,” the Senators wrote. “Despite the low volume of emergent acute sexual assault victims presenting in VA emergency departments and urgent care centers, we expect the Department to ensure our veterans receive the best possible health care and services, either onsite or via a warm handoff to a community provider.”

The Senators highlighted VA’s “unacceptable” shortfalls in providing appropriate health care for veterans seeking care related to sexual assault, as well as the Department’s insufficient enforcement of clear guidelines and training for staff to treat these veterans. Underscoring their concerns, they highlighted how only 49 of 140 facilities reviewed by the OIG provided policies or guidance for VA police on responding to allegations of sexual assault, and how 42% of VA emergency departments and urgent care centers surveyed by the OIG did not have rape kits available onsite.

The lawmakers also stressed their concerns with the OIG’s findings that more than half of the patients who presented at VA emergency departments or urgent care centers for acute sexual assault may have not been offered mental health services. They urged the Department to improve training and resources for clinical staff, and to enforce policies that would ensure patients who request mental health care have contact with a mental health care provider within 24 hours.

The Senators continued, “These findings all point to a widespread disregard for outlining and implementing facility-specific policies, enforcing such policies, and documenting engagement relating to sexual assault. As such, we request the Department take swift action to ensure facilities have robust, location-specific guidelines and training in place for VA police regarding adequate, victim-centered protocols for responding to sexual assault allegations and acute sexual assault victims who present at VA facilities.”

In addition to Senators Hirono and Tester, this letter was signed by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Tina Smith (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), John Fetterman (D-PA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Angus King (I-ME), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Mark Kelly (D-AZ).

The full text of the letter is available here.