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VA Aids Leave Under Cloud Of Harrassment Accusations

By Bill McAllister
The Washington Post

A dozen senior hospital administrators in the Department of Veterans Affairs have been demoted or pressured to leave their jobs since 1993 after being accused of sexually harassing female employees or mismanaging their facilities, VA Secretary Jesse Brown said Thursday.

Brown, under attack in a congressional hearing this week for failing to address the problem, said he did not believe sexual harassment was widespread within the VA. However, he did say he would take strong action against any supervisor found guilty of harassment and that he or his top deputies will personally review all such allegations against senior hospital officials in the future.

"I am concerned any time people are victimized," the VA secretary said in an interview. " It has been an hot issue since 1993. We have been out in front of this issue since 1993."

Allegations of 10 years of sexual harassment by five senior officials at an Atlanta VA hospital became public that year and Brown followed up, issuing a zero-tolerance policy against harassment.

Workers there said they were victims of the VA's male-dominated "good ol' boy network" of administrators who covered up years of harassment of female employees at the VA's 171 hospitals. Legal experts said at the time that the level of harassment at the Atlanta hospital probably was unrivaled by any federal facility in the nation.

Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., who raised the harassment issue at a hearing on the VA's budget Wednesday, disputed Brown's claims of zero tolerance. Hutchinson cited the case of a disciplined VA administrator who this year was transferred to a newly created job in Florida at a salary of $106,000 a year. "I'm not convinced that they are serious about it," the senator said. "I don't see that they are enforcing what they are talking about."

Jerome Calhoun, director of the Fayetteville, N.C., VA hospital, landed the Florida job after an internal investigation determined he made inappropriate sexually explicit comments to female workers. One of three women who accused Calhoun of harassment told investigators he often would make public comments about her breasts.

Another told investigators that the director apologized for one outburst then said: "I really miss the day when, if a woman was out of line, you could just slap her around."

Calhoun denied the allegations, but acknowledged to the investigators that he could be "loud, emotional, and profane." He was transferred to a lesser position at the Bay Pines, Fla., VA hospital, near a community where he plans to retire.

"He is still earning $106,000," Hutchinson said. "That seems to me to be other than zero tolerance. It doesn't send the right signal."