In a national survey of women Veteran primary care patients, one in four women Veterans reported experiencing harassment from other Veterans when they visit VA health care facilities. It’s our responsibility to end it.

This behavior does not honor or value the traditions of military service and will not to be tolerated at VA.

VA is committed to providing women Veterans care in safe and welcoming facilities. Through staff training, VA is increasing the awareness of harassment and its impact. We are identifying what can be done to address the inappropriate treatment of women Veterans and staff.

Harassment is disruptive to the overall Veteran experience and impacts access to care. Through action and accountability, all of us can significantly impact Veterans’ and all visitors’ experiences when they visit VA.

VA recognizes—and is responding to—the issue of harassment and the need for greater respect for women Veterans.

All Veterans should receive health care in environments that attend to their dignity, safety, and privacy.

  • Women Veterans served along-side men and deserve the same VA benefits and services free from harassment and disrespect.
  • Women’s health clinics provide gender-sensitive environments welcoming to female Veterans. This same environment should extend to all areas of VA hospitals and clinics.
  • VA’s Women Veterans Call Center can be reached by calling or texting 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636). Trained staff are available to provide women Veterans, their families, and caregivers assistance with VA services and resources.
  • The Office of Mental Health Services has a Military Sexual Trauma Support Program and offers free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to sexual trauma.

What is harassment?

VA defines patient harassment as unwelcome physical, non-verbal, or verbal behavior that interferes with a Veteran’s access to and sustained engagement with VA health care.

Harassment creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive health care environment. Examples: “You’re too pretty to be a Veteran,” or “Hey baby, come sit next to me.”

Our research shows the most prevalent inappropriate behaviors are gender and sexual harassment. Failure to recognize women as Veterans is gender harassment. This happens when someone asks a woman Veteran if she is accompanying her husband to an appointment. It happens when someone questions her status as a Veteran by asking about the legitimacy of a piece of clothing that identifies a branch or era of service.

VA acknowledges that other patients, as well as staff, are also subject to harassment. Whether unwanted behavior involves a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, race, or ethnicity, it is unacceptable. VA is coordinating efforts to address harassment across the spectrum.

If you experience or witness these behaviors, it is not a compliment. It’s harassment.

  • Catcalls, whistles, stares
  • Leering or ogling
  • Telling women to smile
  • Telling women Veterans they are too pretty to be Veterans
  • Sexual innuendoes, suggestive remarks
  • Following or cornering someone

Patricia M. Hayes, Ph.D., is the Chief Consultant for VHA Women’s Health Services

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Published on Aug. 15, 2019

Estimated reading time is 2.5 min.

Views to date: 678


  1. Ann Oliver September 7, 2019 at 7:15 am

    I have told my doctor that I was very uncomfortable sitting in the waiting room after a man yelled across the large waiting area, “Are you Single?” and then decided to add, “Does the Drapes match the Carpet?”

    Not humorous whatsoever.

  2. Thomas Peterson August 29, 2019 at 11:58 am

    You made a great point that women’s health clinics can provide sensitive environments for female veterans. My sister is coming home from deployment and has been wanting a safe place to go without being harassed. Maybe I should recommend she visits a clinic that can cater to her needs.

  3. Ronald Pitzen August 23, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    I am a 61 year old male veteran who was sexually harrassed by a male nurse who is openly gay. When I reported it I was told they could not do anything because it was done by an employee of the Gulf Coast Med Center in Biloxi Mississippi. The manager of the nurses said all they could do was talk to the employee and let him know it was inappropriate. Slap on the wrist.

  4. Heather August 22, 2019 at 1:12 am

    Well said Melanie. Everyone should go to their appointment and behave. Keep comments about a woman’s appearance to yourself. Every time I go to an appointment some guy has to make a comment to me. I am tired of it. I always reply to the guy with a ‘no thank you” and I go on with my business This does not mean you can not talk to women, It means stop being an animal and act right. You can say hello and hold doors open (those are manners) and that is appreciated. There is a difference between MANNERS and HARASSMENT and everyone knows the difference they just do not want to comply. There is a difference between looking and staring, there is a difference between talking about each person’s time in service and telling a woman she is too pretty to have been in the service. Stop it, if you feel like you can not be around women and behave yourself then you should not be walking around unsupervised.

    • Christina Johnson August 22, 2019 at 1:47 pm

      So sad that this is not so. I am a Navy Veteran who was sexually harassed while on active duty… went to Captain’s Mass and he was found guilty and twenty some years later I still am not being compensated. Where is my justice to my military sexual harassment?
      Only certain ones are approved and compensated while the rest of us remain lost.
      Zero tolerance is just what it says… so where is my compensation?
      You want me to prove my case, I already did and the Review Board refuses to admit they screwed up. I’m tired of this bullsht process that you call fair, no it’s selective and not fair.
      I am my own advocate and refuse to accept your no’s while I have provided the evidence that you feel unnecessary.

  5. Brian August 21, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    I was sexually assaulted by a male mental health counselor at the VA in Louisville, KY and the Va did nothing to him after a formal complaint.

  6. Pamela M. August 20, 2019 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you for acknowledging the problem. Now, there needs to be a procedure to address what to do if one is harassed. Honestly, I just shared with my friends six months ago that on three occasions in the last year I had been harassed while waiting in waiting rooms or the outpatient pharmacy. When I told the pharmacist quietly about the man whose features were audible to everyone, he said “Welcome to the VA.” Really? Honestly, there are no signs posted about inappropriate behavior, no signs about what to do if you are harassed and obviously, no training for employees or policies in place about how to handle these situations.

  7. John M. Grenier August 20, 2019 at 2:31 pm

    Don’t look at women! Number one rule! I shun my eyes when a female approaches. I tip my hat and say, ‘yes um miss’. Nothing’s really changed. It’s always been an unwritten rule, for me anyways. If I am going to a hospital to meet women I am not sick enough to be in hospital.

  8. Ann Klement August 19, 2019 at 7:45 am

    Calling out stolen valor or questioning military accoutrements is NOT gender harassment. It is done by Veterans with a sharp eye and a knowledge base, and is intended to prevent persons not entitled to a particular badge or award from gaining benefit derived from it. I cannot believe that any Veteran would be offended by another Veteran asking about the authenticity of any particular military item. As an Airborne Veteran myself, I see both men and women having to give data on graduation dates and units served with for verification of Airborne status. Being sure of your brothers and sisters is important. Liars and frauds are not well tolerated, and if you understand Veterans you should understand that. Also, if you are so delicate that you can’t tell someone to kiss off when they try to chat you up, maybe you were too delicate to be in the military environment to begin with and you ought to have remained in the civilian sector.

  9. Ted Hooban August 17, 2019 at 8:21 pm

    When I was in the military in the late 70s and early 80’s most of the women that I served with claimed to be seeking equal treatment, and respect. I would occasionally get corrected for doing something that my fellow soldier could do. My female fellow soldiers were not nearly as ready to have me do things for them than my fellow male soldiers.
    It is my nature to say hello to any fellow veteran that I see in; VA facilities. I generally question their history and am happy to share mine. I am in a wheelchair these days, but have always, and still hold dorrs open for people (Male or female.) I thank people for holding a door open for me these days. I look at people and try to picture what they looked like in uniform, and might I have known them back in the day. No insult intended, simply a wander down memory lane in an often boring and tedious environment. God Bless you, and remember that angels have wings because they know how to take themselves lightly.

  10. Karen K Harlow August 17, 2019 at 7:27 pm

    I think the VA needs to spend more time on taking care of veterans. This whole brouhaha is a distraction routine to get us off asking the pointy questions of why can’t the VA take better care of our vets. This politically correct nonsense has got to go!

    • Christine Weeks Bates August 29, 2019 at 6:39 pm

      Karen, you can’t see the connection between taking care of Veterans and treating women with dignity?

  11. Steve Gaylo August 17, 2019 at 12:59 pm

    One in four vets reporting harassment does seem like an odd survey result, but I don’t see any reason for the indignant reactionary comments. The specific behaviors listed in the policy brief cannot be defended or excused as ordinary or “natural.” They are all an overstepping of polite social interaction. Harassment is not going to be seen in a simple smile or a polite greeting, but we all should know that vets visiting a health care facility are there to conduct private business and not to socialize with strangers.

  12. Molly Johnson August 17, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Several of these comments point out quite clearly why sexual and gender harassment are real and continue.

    I have been a veteran for 30 years and my VA mail is still addressed to me as “Mr”. I am not nor have I ever been a “Mr”.

    I would like to point out that sexual harassment is not solely a woman’s problem. Men are sexually harassed and assaulted too. In addition, it is not just the veterans who are harassed. I have witnessed male veterans verbally harassing female staff members, specifically, the clerk who signs veterans in to the clinics. It’s s

  13. Jon August 17, 2019 at 9:41 am

    Good grief now you can not even look at women…smile at them or say hello…because you are harassing them…guess I will have to wear my sunglasses indoors from now on and look straight ahead..

  14. Paula Minger August 16, 2019 at 4:59 pm

    In 40 years I’ve never had a problem with a V.A. employee or Veteran being disrespectful

    I was young when I starting going and now I’m old. I enjoy everyone there.

    It seems women veterans are setting us back a few decades. They complain an awful lot for a group that refers to themselves as “badass”

  15. Paula Minger August 16, 2019 at 4:42 pm

    Is this a real issue or just another complaint?

    In 40+ years I’ve never had a V.A. employee of Veteran be disrespectful to me. I was once young during Vietnam War, now I’m old. Always treated well.

    With so many issues all Veterans face this doesn’t seem to be one that serves the greater good

    Just because a Veteran complains doesn’t mean it’s a problem worth addressing

  16. K Clark August 16, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    As a female veteran I will say that the most disrespect I have received was on active duty from males and females. My experience at VA has been pretty good. I absolutely would report abuse on the spot and call out the veteran that was dishing it out. I have used 6 different VA facilities in 3 different states and have not confronted the problem mentioned here. I have not heard other female veterans mention this problem.

    • Ann Oliver September 7, 2019 at 7:21 am

      I have experienced this problem more than a few times while going to my VA appointments. It’s unfortunate for women and men who experience sexual harassment.

  17. Chad Childers August 16, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    I call BS on this one too. One out of every four? No way! Have you seen the women that come into the VA…no offense ladies! But no women I would flirt with!

  18. Paula Minger August 16, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    In almost 40 years I’ve never been treated disrespectfully by a V.A. Employee or Veterans waiting for care. I find it very difficult to believe this is a valid problem.

    All Veterans face issues with the BASICS in VA Care but it is improving very quickly right now

    This is a distraction that the MAJORITY of Veterans don’t need

  19. Jerry Van Ness August 16, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    You sound like you accept the article’s obviously flawed presentation. You have a solution, now you need to find a problem.

  20. Robert J WhittakerJr August 16, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    Every VA clinic needs to have a security guard that helps veterans get oriented to the facility and helps direct them to where they need to be, and included in that service should be taking care of complaints be it unwanted attention and disturbing loud cell phone usage.

  21. Rick Kampstra August 16, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Your polite reply to a female is easily mistaken by a female who only wants attention from other female. I had two of them in the same shop in 1975. They were only interested in each other any kindness from a male was turned away. It has not changed much over the years. I have been in the VA anger management group and have heard stories of men who have been sexually abused by other men, The military is no longer the cross section of christian society it used to be.

    • Mary Roberts August 18, 2019 at 5:32 pm

      Telling someone they are pretty is not sexual harassment.

    • W August 19, 2019 at 6:17 am

      Very well put sir. You have distilled the essence of the problem.

    • Christine Weeks Bates August 29, 2019 at 6:42 pm

      You fit that stereo type into a neat package of things that never, or rarely happen.

  22. Douglas Barker August 16, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    With all due respect, the apparent ‘official’ position now promulgated by our VA, hereby, is appallingly flawed. Here our VA has posted a testament to the incredibly societal and individually damaging ‘Politically Correct Movement’.  A movement which was created by a self-serving minority, seeking nothing less that total control of the vast majority.  Our majority grew up in a culture with practices and beliefs widely accepted; and accepted for centuries where they evolved.  Some of these may need of alteration, however so many of the practices of the majority are actually scientifically founded in the traits of inborn human-beings’ behaviors, and their natural instincts.  The entire ‘mating process’ for the preservation of the species depends upon attractions, and the ability of one person to attempt to attract another.  Even the most mundane or simplistic natural overtures one human extends to another evaluating attraction potential, are essential parts of what is programmed into each of us by Mother Nature.  To deny scientific facts pertaining to causality in any assessment of behaviors to be suddenly deemed prohibited and unlawful by the VA or other institutions, is a travesty to say the least.Some people are indeed predatory in nature, and their actions should suffer appropriate consequences.  However the majority of women and men are mere normal human beings and they behave accordingly.  We are all naturally inclined to express ourselves following their natural instincts.  The fact that these natural instincts have apparently raised the ire of any minority is actually ‘their problem’, and should not be made to be something that will be turned against the majority; challenging what is so natural to them. I am respectfully calling on the VA to actually rethink this entire matter and at least open up this issue by publicly studying these issues in-depth before listing some absolutely natural behaviors as suddenly being something to be scorned and outright prohibited. The day I am condemned by my VA for honestly expressing my admiration for a nice or attractive person, is the day that the America I love has sustained yet another major blow, to crumble her closer to mere dust.  It is time to speak up on this lunacy.

    • KDL August 16, 2019 at 4:03 pm

      Are you one of the offenders? Maybe you need to get some help. You blame behavior on “inborn human-beings behaviors” and “natural instincts”. If your views are correct every convicted criminal could use that as a defense, it was just “natural instincts”.

    • Valentina Ward August 16, 2019 at 5:00 pm

      Doug, thanks for your opinions. Just a couple of issues to brainstorm: though I agree with your suggestions that instincs are overwelmingly powerful – the discussion is about the healthcare environment, which couldn’t be subject to simple public rules. Healthcare environment is rules by professionalism, and belongs to all veterans equally.

    • Danilo A Nunez August 16, 2019 at 6:50 pm

      I concur

    • Kathy A Gallivan August 17, 2019 at 1:09 pm

      There is absolutely nothing respectful in your post. If you are one of the “mere normal human beings” that behave normally, sexual harassment should be unacceptable to you also. This is the most common diatribe to sexual harassment, commonly perpetrated by people refusing to accept that perhaps their own behavior is unacceptable. Victim blaming, insulting and ignorant. “Natural instinct” should first and foremost include human dignity. “Self-serving minority”? There is nothing more “self-serving” than what you are promoting, which is that men have some innate right to treat women as property put on earth for pleasure, and then resort to name calling when we decline to believe that rubbish.

  23. Maria Elena Tamez-Alvarez August 16, 2019 at 11:41 am

    Since my retirement of Oct 1999 I seemed medical care and was advised by a male doctor in Waco that my I was not entitled to be if it’s because because my hysterectomy was an “elective surgery”. He then proceeded to point to all his certificates on the wall and stated that he had all of that and was stuck having to deal with females like me who were trying to get something for nothing!

    The process to document and obtain my benefits has been more that frustration but devastating. To have my PTSD granted only brought the feeling of anger, humiliation and destruction but after female doctor at the women’s clinic told me “Maria your weight is caused because you eat all day and you need to eat healthy”. Each time I explained that my day meal consisted of two tacos in the morning and and an evening snack of popcorn and beer. Feeding my face was not the case.

    I finally had enough and told her that I got enough verbal abuse from my husband at home I did not need her to add to my daily insults.

  24. Jon Byrd August 16, 2019 at 11:32 am

    I’m gonna throw the bull s**t flag on this one. One out of 4? That’s 25,000 out of 100,000 or to take it out farther, 250,000 out of 1,000,000. I do not believe it is unreal to think there are possibly 1,000,000 women veterans who utilize the VA clinics and hospitals nation wide. I have not seen this in the hospitals and clinics I have used in the mid-west. I see this was a “national” survey but I have to wonder – how many participated?

    • Paula Minger August 16, 2019 at 4:54 pm

      I call BullSh*t too. I started going to the V.A. in 1976 with my husband and we’ve been using it for all my husband care ever since. I’ve never had a V.A. employee or a Veterans be disrespectful to me. Everyone’s always nice. I’ve met vets going back to WWI through today’s POST 9/11,

      This is just nonsense from an era of war that complains about everything! Top claims PTSD and MST. That’s says it all.

      I know it’s tough for VA employees because they’re trying to change. But stick with priorities that deal with a Vets health,

    • Valentina Ward August 16, 2019 at 5:05 pm

      Jon, I feel as even if you were the only veteran whose rights would not be honored – I would support you seeking for justice.

    • Jan Vet August 19, 2019 at 10:31 pm

      Jon you are not in every waiting room, cafeteria, ER and exam room at your local VA every business day for years. I do know that nearly every woman in my women vets’ organization has experienced at least one incident at our VA in the past few years. Many are NOT attempts to flirt – unless you think being told you’re too ugly is a compliment. Some men resent women having been in the military at all and are too ready to say so. Even the ones that are flirting can make someone uncomfortable. If you really do think this is BS drop by the women veterans’ coordinator’s office sometime and ask about this. I promise you will get quite an education.

  25. Wayne Renardson August 16, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Any veteran caught, charged, and found guilty of sexual harassment should be denied access to the VA medical facilities for a period of a year. That might serve to get their god-awful behavior stopped and waken them to the notion their harassment will not be tolerated.

  26. Jerry Van Ness August 16, 2019 at 11:08 am

    Surveys can greatly be influenced by how a question is worded or even how the question is asked. It seems unfathomable to me that, “one in four women Veterans reported experiencing harassment from other Veterans when they visit VA health care facilities” In fact I find the the article offensive as well as ridiculous. It makes male vets appear to be lechers which is far from the truth. In all my visits to the VA I have never witnessed such anything that could even border on such behavior, and I sincerely imagine that it is very rare.

    Would the snowflakes be happy if we never offered to open a door for a lady or offered a polite smile when we pass? Since when has a glance at a person become flirting? I attempt to be polite to a every lady, but it is just being polite and not making a sexual advance. Why is the VA accusing the majority of it’s members of outrageous behavior? It seems someone is pursuing an agenda of their own personal, imagined, societal disorders.

    Have a good day.

    • Jan Vet August 19, 2019 at 11:08 pm

      Jerry the VA is NOT accusing the majority of male vets of anything. I’d say 98-plus% of male vets ARE good guys. But it only takes one to make VA an unsafe place. Most of the members of my women vets’ organization have been harassed at one time or another in the past few years – including me. Some of the perpetrators have even been VA staff – including doctors. We’ve been called names by other patients, told we don’t belong in the military OR VA, and worse. Holding a door for someone is being courteous – smiling at someone is fine. Telling a woman on a motorized chair who’s slowing hallway foot traffic she wouldn’t need that chair if she’d get off her fat ass and walk more isn’t. (I witnessed that one and confess I chewed the guy out as did a couple others). Truth is – that other 2% can be quite nasty – especially if he has a problem with women already. I totally believe you ARE a good man – maybe your being one is why you don’t believe a few others might not be. The women who speak out and report them aren’t snowflakes either – any more than your wife, sister, or mother would be if this happened to her. (In the case of women who do blow up over some man who holds the door or pays her a compliment – they’re not snowflakes either. They’re bitzhes). I’m honestly happy you haven’t witnessed anything like this – and I believe you would step up if you did.

  27. Glenn Lego August 16, 2019 at 10:53 am

    At the VA Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin there is or was a man on staff who is mentally challenged and he’s always telling women how “beautiful “ they are, or say “Hi-ya, babe!or the like

    • Valentina Ward August 16, 2019 at 5:09 pm

      Your example, Glenn, is totally different from the subject brought in discussion. I think everyone would quickly realize that the guy – you mentioned – is not harassing at all.

Comments are closed.

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