Six largest veterans groups call for VA secretary’s firing

The country’s six largest veterans groups on Wednesday called for Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to be fired over a watchdog report revealing that he disparaged a congressional aide who said she was sexually assaulted at a VA facility.

The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Vietnam Veterans of America wrote in a letter to the White House that Wilkie had lost the trust of veterans over the conclusions in the bombshell report and that his actions could prevent people from seeking care from the VA.

“This is a tremendous breach of trust among veterans and Secretary Wilkie must be held accountable,” they wrote. “His actions not only threaten to deter veterans from seeking care at VA, but also undermine the efforts of VA staff who have been working to bring an end to sexual harassment throughout the department.” 

“[S]exual assault and harassment have no place in the VA or our society as a whole,” the groups added. “As the Secretary has refused to take responsibility for his documented wrongdoing in this matter, we, the leaders of the undersigned veterans service organizations, call on you to take further action by immediately removing him from office.” 

The letter is the latest salvo in a growing campaign to press the White House to push Wilkie out of the administration. DAV and AMVETS had already called for Wilkie’s ouster, and high-profile lawmakers such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have called for Wilkie to resign.

The pressure campaign comes after the VA inspector general found that Wilkie sought to discredit Andrea Goldstein after she said in September 2019 that a man at a VA facility in Washington, D.C., sexually assaulted her. A report specifically underscored that Wilkie’s comments branding Goldstein a repeat complainer and his tone regarding her allegations led staff to spread negative information about her.

The internal watchdog also found that visits to the medical center where the aide was allegedly assaulted “increased pressure on the VA police and risked interfering with or introducing bias to the criminal investigation had it not been transferred to the independent OIG.”

Wilkie and other senior VA officials did not cooperate with the internal investigation, which ultimately could not conclude if Wilkie had violated government policies or laws.

The VA dismissed the calls for Wilkie’s ouster, telling The Hill “Secretary Wilkie has led VA to achieve landmark improvements in Veterans’ trust, quality of care and employee satisfaction. He will continue to lead the department, including its historic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Tags AMVETS Disabled American Veterans Nancy Pelosi Robert Wilkie Robert Wilkie Steny Hoyer United States Department of Veterans Affairs United States federal executive departments
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