The U.S. Senate passed a bill Wednesday introduced by U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to protect Veterans Affairs facility patients from sexual assault.
The Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act (S. 1689) was included in a package of veterans' health care and housing measures (H.R. 1627) passed by unanimous consent.
A June 2011 Government Accountability Office report found serious lapses in the reporting of sexual assault in VA facilities, due, in part, to the lack of clear definitions, requirements, and a central database for collecting and storing reports of assault.
The Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act would address these and other issues found in the GAO report by providing a new standard of care and protection for patients at VA facilities in Pennsylvania and across the country. The legislation would mandate a comprehensive VA policy that must include the following:
Reporting and tracking sexual assaults at each VA facility
Tools to assess the risk to individual veterans
Mandatory security training
Physical security precautions (surveillance cameras and panic alarm systems)
Criteria and guidance for employees communicating and reporting incidents to specified supervisory personnel, VA law enforcement officials and the VA Office of Inspector General
An oversight system within the Veterans Health Administration
Procedures for VA law enforcement officials investigating, tracking and closing reported incidents.
"The GAO report was an eye-opener, highlighting serious lapses in the reporting of sexual assault at VA facilities. This bill will implement much-needed improvements in our VA facilities and will offer our veterans the care and protection they deserve," Sen. Toomey said. "I am pleased that the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act has received such strong bipartisan support in the Senate. I look forward to seeing it signed into law and implemented at VA hospitals across the country."
Sen. Toomey's bill also received support from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and Vietnam Veterans of America.