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Harassment charges shake up VA // SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Twelve managers with the Department of Veterans Affairs have been demoted or forced to retire since 1993 because of sexual harassment accusations, the VA said Friday.

The disclosure comes in the wake of continued congressional outrage over the VA's decision to allow another top manager, Jerome Calhoun, to keep his six-figure salary and transfer to the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines despite his sexual harassment of a woman at a Fayetteville, N.C., hospital.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill said they see a pattern of mismanagement and weak discipline in the 171-hospital VA network, and one member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is calling for a hearing into sexual harassment at the department.

"I'm skeptical that the VA's being tough enough as a whole," said Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark. "These continuous examples of mismanagement and the lack of strong disciplinary action ought to concern us and ought to cause us to get the answers."

VA Secretary Jesse Brown, arguing that he has meted out tough punishment for wrongdoers, disclosed the 12 personnel actions at a hearing before the veterans committee Wednesday. But his department hadn't described the nature of the accusations until a Times reporter pressed for details on Friday.

"You can characterize all 12 as sexual harassment," VA spokeswoman Linda Stalvey confirmed.

Lawmakers and members of the public have wondered about the apparent contradiction between the outcome of Calhoun's case and Brown's "zero tolerance" policy against sexual harassment.

An inspector general's investigation released in November found Calhoun harassed one woman who worked with him and behaved toward two others in an "abusive, threatening and inappropriate" manner.

On Friday, a congressional staff member investigating the situation said that VA officials were worried they would lose their case against Calhoun if they tried to fire him. If he appealed and won, he would have his old job back. VA officials briefed the Senate veterans committee earlier this month.

"They decided not to take a chance of losing the case," said Charlie Battaglia, staff director of the veterans committee, who disagreed with the VA's call. "I think they had a solid case and there are others in the VA who thought they had a solid case."

Meanwhile, the VA is refusing to make public the names of the other 12 VA officials implicated in sexual harassment cases, citing the protections of the privacy act. However, a review of public records and newspaper clippings has turned up a number of instances of sexual harassment and other management troubles.

What is known is that shortly after Brown became secretary in 1993, five VA officials in the Atlanta area were demoted or retired for their roles in a 10-yearlong climate of sexual harassment at a hospital there.

That hospital's director and associate director both retired, two other top officials were transferred and the hospital's equal opportunity director was demoted and subsequently left the VA. The inspector general report became public as Brown was taking office. He announced a zero tolerance policy against sexual harassment in 1993.

A year later, in a separate incident, a former director of the VA Medical Center in Mountain Home, Tenn., was accused of sexually harassing six women in a series of incidents that occurred before Brown arrived at the VA.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, a little known investigative arm of the federal government, brought a complaint against one-time hospital director Jonathan Pitts in 1995. The complaint said women were subjected to offensive behavior, including requests for sex and discussions about sex, according to a 1995 article in the Johnston City (Tenn.) Press.

Pitts had transferred to a Durham, N.C., VA facility three years before the office of special counsel charges were filed. VA spokeswoman Sunny David said he took a cut in pay to take the Durham job, and retired from the VA in January.

_ Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.