, WA — “We, VA Puget Sound Health Care System, pledge to never commit, excuse or stay silent about sexual harassment, sexual assault, or domestic violence against others,” is the White Ribbon VA pledge being taken by employees throughout VA Puget Sound across Western Washington.
It’s a step in making the psychological commitment to take action against sexual harassment, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence (IPV) and is an important part of the VA’s ongoing efforts to make the VA a safe and welcoming environment.
“We know that many of the Veterans we care for have experienced interpersonal trauma and sometimes aren’t sure if they are going to feel safe, respected and heard when they come to the VA,” explained VA Puget Sound Clinical Social Worker and IPV Assistance Program Coordinator, Rebekah Barton. “Taking the pledge and raising awareness about these types of interpersonal traumas is a public way of demonstrating the VA’s commitment to fostering a culture of safety and respect within the VA and our greater community.”
White Ribbon VA was inspired by the global White Ribbon organization, a thought-leader in gender-based violence prevention and promoter of gender equity and healthy relationships and has since spread to more than 60 countries including businesses, military bases and other organizations throughout the United States. Since October 2020, VA has partnered with White Ribbon USA and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) to promote ongoing awareness and education about the impact and implications of harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
While the White Ribbon VA campaign is highly visible during Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October) and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April) of each year, the mindset, commitment and efforts of the campaign continue everyday for VA Puget Sound.
VA Puget Sound offers a number of services to Veterans who have experienced interpersonal trauma, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, military sexual trauma (MST), and IPV. Veterans are encouraged to raise their concerns with any provider they feel most comfortable with. If not already engaged with a mental health provider, Veterans can request to see a mental health provider through Primary Care or Women’s Health clinics. These providers will further assess Veterans’ needs and work with them to determine the best options to address those needs.
There are a wide range of evidence-based therapies offered in individual and group treatment settings as well as psychiatrists available to help evaluate medication needs. Most services offered by VA Puget Sound can be accessed virtually by phone or video.
“Given how isolating interpersonal traumas can be, we often encourage Veterans to explore groups with other Veterans who have had similar experience,” said Barton. “We have groups specifically for men who have experienced MST, women who have experienced MST, and women who have experienced IPV.”
Additionally, for Veterans using violence in a relationship (including emotional or verbal abuse) or concerned that this could happen, VA Puget Sound offers evidence-based treatment to help reduce and prevent future violence.
“Recovery can look different for each person and is not always a linear process. A VA Puget Sound provider will help you navigate your options, decide together with you what course is best, and facilitate a connection with other Veterans who understand your experience,” said Barton. “We know that trauma, especially interpersonal trauma, can have a very isolating effect and we are here to help you build a healthy support network and get back to living your life.”
Veterans who need immediate assistance related to domestic violence/intimate partner violence, should contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
To stand with VA Puget Sound against sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence take the White Ribbon VA pledge by visiting https://www.va.gov/health/harassment-free/
For more information about VA Puget Sound IPV and MST services, Veterans are encouraged to reach out to their existing mental health providers or contact one of following: IPV Assistance Program Coordinators: Rebekah Barton at 206-716-5796 or Katie Evans at 253-583-1142; MST Coordinators: Julia Sewell at 206-277-1816 or Alycia Zink at 253-583-3568.
VA Puget Sound provides comprehensive care to more than 150,000 Veterans across the Pacific Northwest. As the VA’s 5th largest research program, VA Puget Sound has research in virtually every major clinical department, including: TBI and multiple blast exposures; memory improvement and Alzheimer's Disease; PTSD and deployment health; Parkinson’s Disease; diabetes; cancer; substance abuse; lower limb prosthetics; genomics; and Health Services. Additionally, it has seven nationally recognized Centers of Excellence (in areas from limb-loss prevention and prosthetic engineering to primary care education and substance abuse treatment). For more information visit www.pugetsound.va.gov.