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GAO: Hundreds sexually assaulted in Veterans Affairs facilities

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By Gannett News Service
Wednesday, June 8, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of people were sexually assaulted in Veterans Affairs facilities since early 2007, and many cases weren't reported to the proper officials, according to a government report released on Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Office reported there were 284 alleged assaults in VA medical centers and residential facilities from January 2007 to July 2010. They included 67 rapes, 185 cases of inappropriate touching, eight incidents of forceful medical exams, 13 cases of oral sex and 11 other assaults.

"When I first read this report, I was aghast," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. "It reminded me of a 1950s prison system -- lawlessness, lack of security and reporting, and outright disregard for human dignity."

Not all cases were substantiated. The cases were reported to police but many weren't reported to agency administrators, as regulations require. For example, 42 alleged rapes weren't reported to the department's inspector general, as required.

Nearly one-third of the cases involved patients assaulting other patients. Nearly one-third involved patients assaulting staffers. At least 46 cases involved staffers assaulting patients. The perpetrator wasn't clear in 28 alleged assaults on patients.

Agency officials used a variety of precautions to prevent assaults, including increased observation of patients thought to pose risks to others, video surveillance, and locks and alarms.

But the GAO report found "significant weaknesses," including "poor monitoring" and "alarm malfunctions."

John Gingrich, VA's chief of staff, said the agency has taken several steps to combat sexual assaults, including setting up a central office to respond to allegations.

"The department values the safety and well-being of all veterans, staffers and visitors who come to VA health-care facilities," Gingrich wrote in reply to the report.

Miller described himself as "sickened" by the allegations and said the committee would hold a hearing on the report on Monday. He said legislation introduced before the report was released aims to create safer facilities for veterans and staffers.



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