VA Deputy Secretary Fired After Less Than 5 Months on Job

James Byrne (right) hands out a coin to during a ribbon cutting ceremony.
James Byrne (right) hands out a coin to during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, March 7, 2019. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Waldrop)

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie fired VA deputy secretary James Byrne Monday due to "loss of confidence," just months after the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Byrne to the job.

Wilkie announced Byrne's immediate dismissal in a two-sentence news release Monday afternoon. Byrne's bio had been already removed from the VA website by the time of the announcement.

"Today, I dismissed VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne due to loss of confidence in Mr. Byrne's ability to carry out his duties," Wilkie said in a statement. "This decision is effective immediately."

Byrne, a former Marine infantry officer, performed the deputy secretary's role in an acting capacity, in addition to his job as the VA's general counsel, until his Senate confirmation on Sept. 11, 2019. He had also served as a Department of Justice international narcotics prosecutor.

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Before joining the VA in 2017, he was part of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s legal department.

As VA deputy secretary, Byrne worked with Wilkie to oversee the VA's health care services, including implementing the Mission Act.

The VA did not provide any explanation regarding Byrne's sudden firing. He had, however, figured in the handling of a high-profile episode involving a congressional staffer and Navy veteran who claimed she was sexually assaulted and harassed at a VA hospital in Washington, D.C.

Andrea Goldstein published an account Monday morning on the website of the aftermath of her alleged assault. By closing her case due to insufficient evidence, she said, Wilkie had implied "I was a liar."

VA Inspector General Michael Missal, who rebuked Wilkie in January for characterizing Goldstein's accusations as "unsubstantiated," noted that he had discussed the allegations with Byrne and VA Chief of Staff Pamela Powers and had warned them against incorrectly characterizing the outcome of the investigation.

The dismissal caused concern from House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano, D-California, who said he will meet with Wilkie in future to discuss this leadership change "in detail."

"Despite speaking with Secretary Wilkie this morning about changes to VA’s staff structure, I have many questions about what Deputy Secretary Byrne’s firing means for our veterans and VA as a whole," he said in a statement. "Deputy Secretary Byrne was confirmed by the Senate—the American people deserve to know why he was dismissed."

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

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