Lawmakers probe VA health records protocols amid privacy concerns, sexual harassment claims

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Fifty members of Congress recently penned a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough over privacy concerns with the VA's protocols for health records access. 

In the April 7 letter, the lawmakers request an update on the implementation of Section 5303 of the Deborah Sampson Act, which requires VA to roll out a comprehensive anti-harassment and anti-sexual assault policy. 

The members cited a 2020 Government Accountability Office report that found one in four women veterans and VA employees reported experiencing sexual harassment or assault at the VA. While there are policies and reporting mechanisms in place for VA employees reporting sexual harassment from other employees, there were no comparable policies, centralized reporting mechanisms or resources for VA beneficiaries who are sexually harassed or assaulted by VA employees or on VA property, according to the letter. 

In Massachusetts recently, a supervisor from the VA's National Call Center improperly gathered personal information from a female veteran's medical records to call and sexually harass her, the lawmakers wrote. After the call, the veteran was unable to identify any mechanism to report the harassment. 

"Additionally, the veteran continues to be completely in the dark regarding the safety and the security of her private information, as the VA employee had transferred her private information to his personal devices," the lawmakers wrote, adding that "As alarming as this story is, it is sadly not an isolated incident." 

The group is calling on VA to move forward with implementing Section 5303, creating a centralized reporting mechanism for VA beneficiaries and to designate sexual harassment and assault prevention coordinators. 

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