House committee launches investigation into VA office over sexual misconduct allegations
Stars and Stripes November 14, 2023
WASHINGTON — The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has launched an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment at a Department of Veterans Affairs’ office designed to promote an inclusive work environment, according to Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., the committee chairman.
At issue are a pair of whistleblower complaints made to the House committee since September against a senior leader at the VA’s Office of Resolution Management, Diversity and Inclusion.
The complaints involved “sexually aggressive” messages and promises of government-funded trips in return for sexual favors, according to Bost, who announced the committee’s investigation Monday night.
Both whistleblowers are employees at the VA office. One of the complainants was identified as a victim of the alleged harassment. The identities of both whistleblowers are being withheld.
Bost said this week that he informed VA Secretary Denis McDonough about the allegations in two letters, dated Sept. 29 and Nov. 2.
But the congressman said he had yet to get a reply.
“I find it incredibly concerning that it’s been over 50 days since I sent a letter to Secretary McDonough why an alleged sexual harasser is still employed at the VA — let alone in his department’s office of diversity and inclusion,” Bost said.
Terrence Hayes, the VA’s press secretary, said Monday that “the individuals involved [in the allegations of misconduct] have been moved while investigations are conducted.”
“VA is committed to ensuring a safe, welcoming and harassment-free environment for all. Whenever there are allegations of wrongdoing, we investigate thoroughly and take appropriate action,” he said, adding he could not provide more information due to the ongoing review.
Bost’s office released a series of text messages that one of the complainants provided from her supervisor — dated from August 2022 to August 2023. The messages from the supervisor to the employee were increasingly graphic over time.
In a text dated Aug. 31, 2022, the supervisor wrote to the employee: “Let’s keep in touch and get to know each other in a personal way.” On March 22, 2023, the supervisor wrote: “I just gotta figure out how to get us under the same roof and naked.”
The texts included responses by the victim stating she was only interested in a friendship.
The supervisor later made negative and discrediting statements about the victim to leaders of that VA office, according to email exchanges provided by Bost’s office. The victim told Bost and members of the House VA committee that her relationship with the supervisor was strictly professional.
Hayes said the VA is in the process of collecting information that it will forward to the House committee.
“We will continue to make improvements, be transparent, and hold ourselves accountable to ensuring a safe, welcoming and harassment-free environment for all,” he said.