House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., is calling for the resignation of VA Secretary Robert Wilkie following revelations that Wilkie disparaged a Navy Reserve member who said she was sexually assaulted at a VA facility.
After the VA Inspector General found Thursday that Wilkie sought to discredit a veteran who reported an assault at the VA's DC Medical Center in Sept. 2019, Takano said Wilkie has "lost the trust of all those he is charged to serve and must resign."
The veteran, Andrew Goldstein, works closely with Takano; she is a member of the committee staff as well as a Navy Reserve lieutenant commander.
"Instead of working with me to address an underlying problem at the DC VAMC from the start, Secretary Wilkie and the senior-most officials at VA went out of their way to raise suspicions and cast speculation and doubt about [the veteran] and the legitimacy of the whole incident," Takano said Thursday in reaction to the report.
"When the most senior leadership of VA are derelict in their duty, refuse to take immediate action to correct glaring deficiencies, and are themselves complicit in attempts to discredit and cast doubt on the facts, they betray the public trust and as a result disqualify themselves from all future public service," he added.
While the IG found that Wilkie disparaged Goldstein and sought to undermine her credibility, it did not, however, substantiate reports that Wilkie actively investigated the former service member or ordered others to look into her background.
After Goldstein was allegedly groped at the VA hospital, she alleges no one intervened or assisted until she told her doctor.
The IG also found that VA officials began to take actions within hours of Goldstein's report that appeared to seek reasons to undermine her credibility. According to the investigation, the same day as the complaint, they began discussing whether Goldstein had complained about verbal abuse from a VA provider. And, the probe found, they ran a background check on Goldstein and circulated the findings before a background check was conducted on the accused, and later launched a media campaign to question Goldstein's credibility, targeting nine national press outlets.
Takano called Wilkie's interference in the case "baseless attacks" and said Goldstein is an "exceptional staffer who works tirelessly not for herself but to improve the lives of all veterans across our country."
"Sadly, this report is emblematic of the well-documented issue of sexual harassment and assault that has festered in our military and polluted the culture at VA. Across our country, countless servicemembers and veterans experience these injustices daily -- having their truth questioned and their voices ignored," he said.
The congressman, who leads the committee that has oversight and sets policy for the department, called for the resignation of other officials mentioned in the report as well: Acting Deputy Secretary Pamela Powers, Acting Chief of Staff and Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs Brooks Tucker, Principal Deputy General Counsel Performing the Delegable Duties of the General Counsel William Hudson, Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs James Hutton; and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Curt Cashour.
"VA requires cultural change to put an end to sexual harassment and assault at VA facilities -- that change starts at the top. It is clear to me that Secretary Wilkie is not up to that task. He has lost the trust and confidence of all those he is charged to serve," Takano said.