J. Marc Burgess, National Adjutant

Respect begins with us

In October, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued a declaration committing to a harassment-free health-care environment. The signers dedicated themselves to holding leadership, employees and veterans alike accountable to uphold a set of principles that aim to stamp out harassment within VA facilities.

With the Stand Up to Stop Harassment Now declaration, the VA commits to creating a safe, respectful and welcoming environment for everyone; empowering individuals to recognize, intervene and report harassment; advancing a harassment-free culture; providing a secure and compassionate reporting process; assisting veterans, visitors and volunteers with reporting incidents; taking prompt action to respond to reports; being accountable by tracking reports and the actions taken; and partnering with veterans and veterans service organizations to stop harassment.

This declaration comes on the heels of an incident at the Washington DC VA Medical Center, in which a woman veteran filed a report that she was sexually assaulted while in the hospital’s lobby. Aside from being a veteran and a patient at the hospital, the woman is also a senior policy adviser for the bipartisan congressional Women Veterans Task Force charged with promoting inclusivity and equitable access to resources, benefits and health care for women veterans.

But this incident is far from an outlier. A 2019 VA study showed that 1 in 4 women veterans reported inappropriate, unwanted comments or behavior by male veterans on VA grounds. Those behaviors included being catcalled, whistled or stared at; being told by a male veteran to smile or that she is too pretty to be a veteran; receiving suggestive remarks; and being followed or cornered by a male veteran. Among those who reported such experiences, 61% reported harassment, 16% reported that their status as a veteran or their right to VA care was questioned, 7% reported harassment in addition to questions about their veteran status, and 5% reported threatening or criminal behavior.

Brothers and sisters, these are our VA facilities, built to care for the needs of all veterans. I thank the VA for their commitment to creating a more inclusive culture, but we are the ones who fill the halls and waiting rooms. We are the ones who are on the front lines of this battle. We are the ones who must take action and be the voice for positive change.

None of us should be willing to stand by while a fellow veteran—regardless of gender—faces any type of harassment or disrespect. I call on all our DAV members to help spread that word and ensure we are properly looking out for each other.

Remember, there is absolutely no passing the buck here. Respect must begin with each and every one of us.

 

If you want to find out more about the National Adjutant, you can find his biography here.