House chairman calls for VA secretary to resign over handling of sex assault case

house-chairman-calls-for-va-secretary-to-resign-over-handling-of-sex-assault-case

The chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday called for VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and key members of his leadership team to resign immediately over the handling of a sexual assault allegation made by congressional staffer.

“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,” Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said in a statement Thursday following the release of an Inspector General report that criticized Wilkie’s actions in office.

That report found ethical lapses and “unprofessional” behavior by senior VA leaders following a complaint filed in September 2019 by committee staffer Andrea Goldstein, a naval reservist who alleged she was groped and verbally abused by a male veteran while in a public area of the Washington, D.C. VA medical center.

It accused Wilkie and other senior staffers of working behind the scenes to discredit her, rather than addressing problems related to the accusations. However, the report did not find any basis for criminal charges.

In a statement, Wilkie blasted the findings as biased and “more dedicated to scoring political points than improving the department.”

But Takano said the report underscores that VA leaders are not taking issues of sexual misconduct seriously enough.

“The incidents detailed in today’s IG report were not fabricated or dreamt up as political stunts,” he said. “In early 2019, VA’s own research found that at least 1 in 4 women veterans experience sexual or gender harassment at VA.

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“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 Andrea and the legitimacy of the whole incident.”

Takano and Wilkie have sparred frequently in the past, each accusing the other of being more focused on political wins than improvements for veterans. On several occasions in recent months, Wilkie and other VA leaders have declined opportunities to testify before Takano’s committee on a series of veterans policy topics.

Along with Wilkie, Takano called for the resignation of acting Deputy Secretary Pamela Powers, acting Chief of Staff Brooks Tucker, Principal Deputy General Counsel William Hudson Jr., Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs James Hutton, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Curt Cashour. All of them were named in the report.

VA officials did not immediately respond to Takano’s statement.

The full report is available online at the VA Inspector General’s website.

About

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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