Several leading veterans’ organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, and Vietnam Veterans of America, wrote a scathing letter to President Trump urging for the immediate ouster of Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.
In the letter, the veterans’ organizations stated that Wilkie, “no longer has the trust or confidence of America’s veterans.” Their condemnation came after a damning audit released by the inspector general of Veterans Affairs. The audit found that Wilkie had acted unprofessionally and unethically in disparaging a Congressional aide to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, (D-CA). Takano said that actions of senior department leaders “betray the public trust and as a result disqualify [them] from all future public service.”
The aide, a senior policy adviser for Chairman Takano and a Navy reservist named Andrea Goldstein, alleged she was sexually assaulted and verbally abused in public by a man at the Washington D.C. Veteran Affairs (VA) medical center. The inspector general’s report stated that Wilkie and other members of his staff sought to discredit Goldstein and impugn her honesty, despite vowing to fully investigate her allegations.
Arguably the most damning evidence against Wilkie was the fact that the VA opened an investigation on Goldstein herself two days before opening an investigation on the man she accused. The accused man was not named in the report, even though it is alleged he had earlier charges of sexual harassment levied against him. Additionally, the man was not charged with any wrongdoing.
“Sexual assault and harassment have no place in the VA or our society,” said the veterans’ organizations in their letter.
“This is a tremendous breach of trust among veterans,” they added.
Several high-ranking Democrats, including House leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, (D-MD) are also calling for Wilkie’s resignation. Yet, the VA secretary has denied any wrongdoing and has vowed to “continue to lead the department.”
Even if the president refuses to fire him, Wilkie actually has only about a month left on the job regardless. President-elect Joe Biden has nominated former Obama chief of staff, Joe McDonough, as his choice to lead the VA.
B.J. Lawrence, the Executive Director of Veterans of Foreign Wars [VFW], published a statement on VFW’s official website regarding the affair. “The accountability, professionalism, and respect that our veterans have earned, and quite frankly deserve, is completely lost in this current VA leadership team,” Lawrence’s statement read.
“Secretary Wilkie and several members of his executive staff violated the trust of a fellow veteran who came forth with serious allegations of sexual assault. Instead of taking this veteran’s allegations seriously, the Secretary and his key staff sought to discredit and vilify the veteran. We will not tolerate this behavior at our VA.”
“Sexual assault is a criminal act. We expected the Secretary to properly investigate this serious matter, yet he and close members of his team focused on questioning the credibility of the alleged assaulted veteran,” Lawrence added.
“The VFW can no longer entrust Secretary Wilkie with leading our VA or caring for our veterans. Trust is lost and our veterans cannot wait until January 20, 2021, for a leadership change. Secretary Wilkie must resign now.”
The letter signed by all six leaders of the veterans’ organizations said, “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.”