Report Summary

Title: Senior VA Officials’ Response to a Veteran’s Sexual Assault Allegations
Report Number: 20-01766-36 Download
Issue Date: 12/10/2020
City/State: Washington, DC
VA Office: Office of the Secretary
Report Author: Office of Special Reviews
Report Type: Administrative Investigation
Release Type: Unrestricted

In response to congressional requests, the OIG investigated allegations of misconduct by the VA Secretary and senior leaders regarding a veteran’s complaint that she had been sexually assaulted at the Washington DC VA Medical Center. Requests included determining whether VA officials investigated or sought to undermine the veteran’s credibility.

The OIG found that senior VA officials questioned the veteran’s credibility within hours of her complaint and expressed their views publicly when the criminal investigation closed without charges. Despite the inspector general’s caution not to infer the allegations lacked merit, VA mischaracterized the veteran’s allegations as “unsubstantiated” to nine media outlets. Senior officials’ initial engagement reportedly created pressure on VA police, who conducted a background check on the veteran before one on the individual she accused.

However, the OIG did not identify conclusive evidence to support or refute that Secretary Wilkie investigated or asked others to investigate the veteran due to conflicting and unavailable witness testimony and limitations on tracking records access. Six senior officials did testify they heard the Secretary state the veteran made, or may have made, prior similar complaints. A senior official asked a journalist to look into whether the veteran had done this before, based on a comment the Secretary made. Officials testified the Secretary’s remarks implied prior complaints were unfounded. Other senior officials could not recall such statements, and the Secretary denied investigating the veteran, questioning her credibility, or knowing whether she had made prior complaints.

The OIG told VA leaders following the criminal investigation they could take administrative action and suggested they review VA police files. VA’s files indicated the individual accused had a criminal history and prior complaint of sexual harassment. The OIG found leaders did not follow up or ensure the medical center had been implementing VA’s anti-harassment and anti-sexual assault efforts.