House VA Committee chairman describes ‘damning findings’ in probe of sexual misconduct claims at VA diversity office
Stars and Stripes February 6, 2024
WASHINGTON — An internal investigation into sexual misconduct claims at a Department of Veterans Affairs office tasked with promoting harassment-free workplaces has substantiated several of the allegations, according to Rep. Mike Bost, R-III., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
The VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection completed a review into allegations by female employees involving sexual harassment and misconduct by male supervisors, Bost disclosed Tuesday.
The findings, which were forwarded to the House committee, support many of the claims made by employees in the VA’s Office of Resolution Management, Diversity and Inclusion, he said.
Claims of misconduct included improper sexual advances, pressure to engage in sexual or romantic relationships and threats of retaliation for refusal. The report was not made public Tuesday.
Bost described the findings as “damning.” But he also criticized the report for “failing to fully capture the scope of materials the committee requested.”
The House committee voted last month to subpoena VA Secretary Denis McDonough for all texts, emails and other communications related to the allegations.
“Congress has a constitutional responsibility to find out who knew what, when they knew it, and why they didn’t stop it as it relates to these allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct,” Bost said in a formal statement.
Terrance Hayes, the VA press secretary, said Tuesday that the VA is treating the allegations seriously and aggressively investigating the claims.
“The VA does not tolerate sexual harassment,” Hayes said, adding the VA plans to “take swift and appropriate action.”
Hayes outlined steps that the VA has taken in its investigation.
“This includes sharing the 125-page Office of Whistleblower Protection report, as promised before the subpoena, which carefully examines each of the allegations raised by whistleblowers and makes findings and recommendations for discipline and other remedial steps,” Hayes said.
The VA has turned over more than 50,000 documents to the committee and produced sworn statements from 40 witnesses, he said.
A hearing by the oversight subpanel of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is planned for Feb. 14 to examine when VA leaders became aware of the allegations and how they responded. The title of the hearing is “VA’s HR office: Did leaders ignore and perpetuate sexual harassment?”
Rep. Mark Takano of California, the top Democrat on the committee and a former chairman of the panel, warned fellow committee members last month against “reckless” actions that could ruin the lives of the accused before all information had been collected and reviewed.
He cast the only “no” vote against the subpoena resolution, which was adopted 22-1.
Takano said Tuesday that the VA’s whistleblower office “worked expeditiously to conduct and conclude their investigation and has since sent over thousands of pages of supporting documents that my staff continues to comb through. Next week will be an opportunity to engage with VA on their investigation and what information has been provided to us.”
Takano’s staff has been conducting a separate investigation into the allegations along with Republican committee members.
The VA report includes recommendations for personnel actions involving members of the Office of Resolution Management, Diversity and Inclusion, according to Takano’s office.
Takano has encouraged McDonough to proceed with those actions.
House VA Committee staff were initially contacted in September 2023 “by the first of many whistleblowers” from the VA’s diversity and inclusion office.
Bost described some of the allegations as “graphic and appalling.”
Some of the supervisors in the office were reassigned, including managers who failed to respond to employee complaints, the VA said last fall.
The Office of Resolution Management, Diversity and Inclusion is tasked with making VA workplaces “harassment-free” and oversees a harassment prevention program that calls for “immediate and appropriate corrective actions be taken to eliminate harassing conduct.”