Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
End Harassment Campaign
Cat calls NOT welcome. Staring and whistling…NOT okay at the VA. These are some key messages of a special campaign kicking off this month at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) in Houston. The medical center’s new End Harassment Campaign is aimed at ensuring women Veterans receive their healthcare in a safe and respectful environment, free of even the hint of sexual harassment. During the month of April, MEDVAMC is educating employees, Veterans, and visitors and actively working to change the medical center culture to one of zero tolerance for any type of harassment.
More than 15,000 women Veterans are currently registered for care at the Houston VA. Some of these women Veterans have reported feeling uncomfortable or harassed while surrounded by their male Veteran counterparts at the medical center, according to Dr. Rola El-Serag, Director of the MEDVAMC Women’s Health Program. “When women feel uncomfortable in our medical center, they are less inclined to come in to receive the medical care they need,” said El-Serag. “This can have a hugely negative effect on their health, both mentally and physically. The thought that a woman Veteran who has experienced something like military sexual trauma or is suffering from something like post-traumatic stress disorder, would not be comfortable coming to the VA is just unacceptable.”
To combat this issue, the MEDVAMC began training all 5,400+ employees on ways to recognize inappropriate behavior and equipping them with the tools to intervene on behalf of women Veterans in a variety of situations. In addition, signs educating Veterans and visitors to avoid doing things like staring and making inappropriate remarks, while encouraging them to treat the women Veterans with dignity and respect, have been installed around the Medical Center. VA Police are trained to intervene when necessary.
“We are determined to remove any barriers to care that exist for our women Veterans and make sure the VA is a place they feel is nurturing, helpful, and respectful,” said Frank Vazquez, Medical Center Director. In 2017, the Medical Center opened a new Women’s Health Center, dedicated to meeting the special needs of women Veterans. The new center offers women Veterans a private entrance, a growing number of co-located services including on-site mammograms, and primary and mental health care. As the fastest growing demographic of VA patients, women Veterans average about 20 years younger than the male patients at the medical center.
Women Veterans experiencing harassment are encouraged to report it to the Women’s Health Center or to the MEDVAMC Patient Experience Office, located on the 5th floor of the medical center near the blue elevators. Employees are trained to pay close attention to what is going on around them and intervene, and if necessary report inappropriate behavior to the VA Police. So far, MEDVAMC employees and Veterans have embraced the End Harassment Campaign. Over the past few weeks, the VA police have already seen an increase in the number of reported complaints of inappropriate behavior.
“We are hoping to see the number of complaints go up at first, indicating that our women Veterans and employees feel empowered to bring issues forward and are confident that we will act on them,” El-Serag said. “The women Veterans I meet here every day, are incredibly brave, determined, and accomplished. It is our job at the VA to provide a safe and respectful environment for these women.”
For more information about the MEDVAMC’s End Harassment Campaign or to report inappropriate behavior, contact the MEDVAMC’s Women Veterans Coordinator at 713-794-2834.