Study Details Harassment of Women Veterans Seeking Healthcare at VA Sites

Female patient in waiting room

One of the first studies to systematically investigate harassment of female veterans at Veterans Affairs (VA) health centers found that one in four women who receives care at a VA medical center has experienced inappropriate comments or behavior from male veterans on facility grounds. Published in the latest issue of the journal Women’s Health Issues, the study documented that those who reported such harassment were significantly more likely to report either delaying or missing care.

The lead author of the study, which was selected as the Editor’s Choice for the March/April issue of Women’s Health Issues, is Ruth Klap of VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System and the University of California at Los Angeles Geffen School of Medicine. She and her colleagues surveyed 1,387 women veterans who had completed three or more primary care and/or women's health visits at any of 12 VA medical centers in the year before the study.

The researchers asked those who reported experiencing inappropriate or unwanted comments or behavior from male veterans for descriptions of such behavior. The authors summarized the most frequently described forms of harassment as “being catcalled, stared at or watched, propositioned, targeted with sexual or derogatory comments, or told that they were too pretty to be a veteran.”

“Exposure to harassment from fellow patients is not consonant with the [VA’s] goals and policy mandates for delivering care in safe and secure environments,” write Klap and her co-authors, who presented their findings to VA leaders. As they report in the paper, VA Women’s Health Services responded by establishing a national workgroup, gauging effective harassment reduction programs outside the VA, convening an expert panel, and pilot-testing and evaluating harassment interventions.

“This study is important both because it highlights a form of harassment that might otherwise be overlooked, and because it shows how that harassment could affect women veterans’ receipt of high-quality healthcare,” said Amita Vyas, Editor-in-Chief of Women's Health Issues and Associate Professor of Prevention and Community Health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. “We congratulate the authors for their high-impact research, which has already spurred actions aimed at ending stranger harassment at VA medical centers.”


Prevalence of Stranger Harassment of Women Veterans at Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and Impacts on Delayed and Missed Care” is available here.