More Lawmakers, Veterans Groups Call for VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to Resign

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U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.
U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaks during an East Room event to announce the “PREVENTS Task Force” at the White House June 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Veteran groups lined up Saturday to demand the firing or immediate resignation of VA Secretary Robert Wilkie following an Inspector General's report that found he sought to smear a woman who filed a complaint of sexual assault at a VA hospital.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other top Democrats joined Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, in calling for Wilkie's ouster.

In separate statements, the two largest veterans service organizations, the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, said that Wilkie's handling of the complaint made by Navy Reserve lieutenant commander and congressional aide Andrea Goldstein made him unfit for office.

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"It is clear that Secretary Robert Wilkie failed to meet the standard that the veteran who came forward with the complaint deserved," said Legion National Commander James W. "Bill" Oxford. "The American Legion believes Secretary Wilkie should resign."

The VFW "has lost all confidence in the performance of Secretary Robert Wilkie and demands his immediate resignation," said B.J. Lawrence, the VFW's executive director.

When Goldstein made allegations about being groped and harassed in the lobby of the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center in September 2019, Wilkie and his staff "sought to discredit and vilify the veteran," Lawrence said. "We will not tolerate this behavior at our VA."

Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also called for Wilkie to resign or be fired by President Donald Trump.

Goldstein, who came forward to identify herself, later appeared with Takano at a news conference in front of the facility to demand action by the VA.

The IG report, released last week, said that the alleged assailant may have been a "contractor," but did not give any further identification.

The VA maintained that video cameras which might have recorded the incident were not working on the day Goldstein claimed she was assaulted.

An initial report by VA Inspector General Michael Missal found that the claim lacked evidence, and the Justice Department declined to take up the case.

However, Missal also blasted statements by Wilkie, who said Goldstein's claims were "unsubstantiated" and had needlessly tarnished the VA's reputation.

"Neither I nor my staff told you or anyone else at the Department that the allegations were unsubstantiated," Missal said in a letter to Wilkie. "Reaching a decision to close the investigation with no criminal charges does not mean that the underlying allegation is unsubstantiated."

In meetings, Wilkie said Goldstein's complaint at the Washington VA hospital was "similar to other complaints she's made other places, or words to that effect," the IG report found.

The report cited witnesses' accounts of VA meetings in which Wilkie characterized Goldstein as a chronic complainer and referred to her as "the Takano staffer whose glamour shot was in the New York Times."

"The tone set by Secretary Wilkie was at minimum unprofessional and at worst provided the basis for senior officials to put out information to national reporters to question the credibility and background of the veteran who filed the sexual assault complaint," the report said.

In sworn testimony to the IG, Wilkie vehemently denied ever "investigating the veteran, questioning her credibility, or knowing whether she had made prior complaints."

Wilkie also submitted a formal response to allegations addressed in the report, In his response, questioning Missal's motives and methods in compiling it.

Missal could not "substantiate that I sought to investigate or asked others to investigate the veteran ... that's because these allegations are false," Wilkie said. "Having failed to prove the false allegations that served as the basis for this investigation, the IG shifted its focus to policing and critiquing confidential internal deliberations among VA staff."

This, he added, "established a strawman in which any discussion or scrutiny of public and high-profile allegations against the department, or a general desire to know the truth, are somehow improper."

In Twitter posts Thursday, Goldstein charged that Wilkie and his staff set in motion a coverup that was intended "not to take ownership and ensure accountability, but to investigate and impugn my character."

"The millions of women and men who have experienced or witnessed sexual violence in the military recognized Wilkie's actions as horrifyingly familiar -- refuse to take or enforce accountability, blame, shame, and make the victim the problem," Goldstein said.

"In this shocking abuse of power, Secretary Wilkie publicly revictimized the very people that the agency that he leads is supposed to serve."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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