Obviously, nothing is more important than the safety of our veterans; and this bill, H.R. 2074, contains many provisions to help improve the safety and health care of our veterans.
Because of a report I requested as chair, the GAO presenter ``VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Prevent Sexual Assaults and Other Safety Incidents.'' That report found that veterans and employees were exposed to personal dangers, including sexual assaults, in the very facilities that should be protecting them.
And, Madam Speaker, I think we ought to be more outraged given the findings of that report. That report found that there were not just dozens of alleged sexual assaults that went unreported, not even scores of such assaults, but hundreds of them--hundreds of sexual assaults alleged but not reported by those who had the obligation and responsibility to report them.
How are our veterans protected when they can't even have a report of an alleged assault? What message does that give to people that the military & the VA care about what's going on here and what's going on with their safety? That's who we should be going after here, by the way. It's very clear who has the responsibility about reporting such assaults, and yet they were not reported in the hundreds of cases, and that was only, by the way, at some selected study places. Who knows what we would have found in the whole institution?
I don't know that the VA has ever reprimanded any of those people. I don't know that the VA has ever said to the Veterans Administration that this will not be tolerated, that not only are we going to report on them, but investigate them and bring people to justice. I don't know that any of that has happened. That's what this bill should be trying to focus on. What happens to those people who don't report them? What happens to the cover-ups? What happens to those who protect each other as people are assaulted?
I'm not sure that we have come to grips with this issue. This report was outrageous. This report was incredibly, incredibly tragic. And all I find is we are going to do some process changes in here--and I support those, and we'll vote for the bill. But we're sending a message here to the entire 250,000 working people of this VA that we're not really concerned about them, we're not reporting them, we're not getting to those people covering up, we're not getting at those people who protect each other, we're not getting at those who have violated the law by not reporting such incidents.
Let's go after them. Let's give our veterans some comfort that their safety is protected.
I reserve the balance of my time.
I yield myself such time as I may consume.
As I said earlier, this is a bill that has a lot of good things in it, and I wish we had gone further.
I met with the GAO this morning. They said they could follow up reports such as this with an investigation of personnel actions, for example, and could report back to us in terms that don't violate any civil service protections that they would provide a third party kind of review of the personnel actions that may have resulted from their recommendations.
You don't have to answer now, but I would be prepared to work with the chair to request such an investigation, because what we have done here is, in response to the report that said reporting requirements were not met in hundreds of cases at some few selected sites that they examined, merely add new reporting requirements. They didn't follow the first ones, so what good are more reporting requirements going to do?
There have to be some actions on the part of the Veterans Administration that say to our employees, that say to our veterans that there shall be no sexual assaults on our sites. Yet what we're saying here is, oh, we'll add a few more reporting requirements. That doesn't send a message, because we already had the reporting requirements.
Let's try to find a way--and I'll work with the chair to do this--to send a message to our agency, not that we're going to pass another few rules, but that we're going to take this seriously, that we're going to demand that the employees who did not follow what is clearly stated in rules and law about reporting alleged cases of sexual assault be terminated. In my opinion, they ought to have been terminated. This is so serious, and it would have sent such a good message to those who might either perpetrate assault or to those who are victims of such assault.
They should have been terminated. I doubt that they were. I doubt that they were removed from their jobs. I would hope the VA might contradict me, but I doubt that there was anything more than a note saying they should do better in the future. I hope I'm wrong, but I will tell you that the history of personnel actions in response to acts such as these has not been one that gives confidence to me that we have sent the right message.
So I will work with the chair to do whatever we can to send the right message from this Congress and from the American people that these acts will not be tolerated.
I yield back the balance of my time.