6 Major Veterans Orgs to White House: Fire VA Secretary Wilkie Now

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie speaks at a VFW event in June 2019
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaks at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Fox Park Pavilion in Wildwood, N.J., on June 19, 2020. (Edward Lea/The Press of Atlantic City via AP)

The nation's top veterans organizations sent a letter Wednesday to the White House, calling on President Donald Trump to fire Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.

Responding to a VA Office of Inspector General report issued last week that found Wilkie had questioned the integrity of a Navy Reserve lieutenant commander who works for the House Veterans Affairs Committee, six veterans service organizations wrote Trump calling for the secretary's removal.

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"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," wrote the heads of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

The groups separately issued statements last week calling on Wilkie to resign, an effort seen as largely symbolic, as the secretary has just a few weeks left in his job.

At least 15 lawmakers have joined the effort, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Mark Takano, also a California Democrat, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

After the service member, Andrea Goldstein, alleged she was groped and harassed in the atrium at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center in September 2019, Wilkie cast aspersions on her and sought to undermine her credibility, the VA IG found.

However, the investigation could not substantiate reports that Wilkie actively sought information to discredit Goldstein or that he ordered others to look into her background.

In their letter to Trump, the veterans groups said the findings make "clear the secretary himself established a defense posture and made decisions to personally disparage the veteran and circumvent the subsequent IG investigation."

"This is a tremendous breach of trust among veterans, and Secretary Wilkie must be held accountable. 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," the groups wrote.

The IG report said that the alleged assailant may have been a contractor at the facility whose background was investigated several days after VA law enforcement initiated a background check on Goldstein.

An initial report by VA Inspector General Michael Missal found there was not enough evidence to support Goldstein's allegations, noting that the hospital's security cameras weren't operational at the time. The Justice Department declined to take up the case.

But Missal said Wilkie had needlessly tarnished the VA's reputation by responding that Goldstein's claims were "unsubstantiated."

In the report released last week, Missal said 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."

In Twitter posts Thursday, Goldstein charged that Wilkie and his staff set in motion a cover-up 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 response to the report, Wilkie said the allegations were false, claiming that after interviews with 65 people, the IG "did not identify any documentary evidence corroborating" statements by the VA official who made the charges.

Wilkie's position as VA secretary is set to end Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in. The secretary has made no public statements about the case, despite numerous calls for him to resign.

VA spokeswoman Christina Noel said that Wilkie will "continue to lead the department," which has made "landmark improvements in veterans' trust, quality of care and employee satisfaction."

Other organizations that have called for Wilkie's resignation include Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Service Women's Action Network, The National Veterans Legal Services Program, and the Modern Military Association of America.

The conservative Concerned Veterans for America, which traditionally has supported the Trump administration's reform efforts at the VA, criticized Wilkie's leadership in the case, saying, "VA leaders should always put the veteran and the integrity of the institution ahead of themselves."

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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