Union rep: sexual harassment at VA is a discredit to veterans

The union representing Department of Veterans Affairs employees said workers are still being sexually harassed there, after a government agency reported the VA wasn’t doing enough to protect the workforce.

Tinita Cole is the AFGE National VA Council Representative and Chair of the Grievance and Arbitration EEO subcommittee, who spoke with us about what she’s experienced. She’s worked at the Dayton VA for 31 years and said she has been sexually harassed while there.

She’s not alone in her experience, according to a watchdog report.

“They just want to go to work and get their pay,” Cole said. “They don’t want to be harassed or made to feel that they’re not valued.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported an estimated 17% of VA employees surveyed stated they had experienced at least one harassing behavior. That’s compared to just 12% of other federal employees surveyed.

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Cole recalled she and other union representatives met with investigators as they were working on this report.

“We took them off by surprise because they thought it was just a kind of ‘hey, how you think’ one of them little warm fuzzy meetings, but it was not,” she said.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers questioned VA officials about why they haven’t fully implemented the recommendations.

“We are committed absolutely to turning this thing around and fixing it and I think we are,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Harvey Johnson said.

“To me you’re still not taking it serious,” Cole told us.

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A VA spokesperson said they’ve made great strides in addressing the findings, but the union fears any delay could have consequences.

“It’s a discredit to the veteran because it reflects in how they treat the veteran, not because they mistreat the veteran,” Cole said. “It may show up in absences from work, which makes the staff shorter. It may show up in shortness or maybe even crying spells.”

“We will stop at nothing to make sure that that every person who interacts with VA is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes, wrote in a statement. “VA has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment and assault, and we have worked hard to improve our structures, policies, and processes to ensure that sexual harassment is never tolerated at VA.”

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