Rep. Mikie Sherrill called on Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert Wilkie to resign following the recent report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) detailing the Wilkie’s attempts to smear a woman veteran who reported a sexual assault at a VA facility.
“After two years of work to raise the level of care women veterans receive, the Inspector General’s report and the Secretary’s behavior are extremely disturbing,” stated Sherrill in a press statement Dec. 15. “The Secretary of the VA is responsible for the veterans in his care, and they should be his first concern—not his own political wellbeing. Secretary Wilkie should resign immediately.”
At issue is Wilkie’s response to allegations in September 2019 when Navy reservist Andrea Goldstein, a staffer on the House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Committee, reported she was assaulted and verbally abused by a man in a public area of the Washington, D.C. VA medical center while visiting the hospital.
The investigation by the Veterans Affairs’ inspector general concluded Wilkie repeatedly sought to discredit Goldstein, a senior policy adviser to House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA). The inspector general found Wilkie’s disparaging comments about Goldstein as a repeat complainer as well as the overall “tone” he set influenced his staff to spread negative information about her while ignoring known problems of harassment at the facility.
Wilkie and other senior officials declined to fully cooperate with the investigation, according to VA Inspector General Michael Missal. For that reason, Missal said he could not conclude whether Wilkie had violated government policies or laws, allegedly by personally digging into the woman’s past. The case of Goldstein was ultimately closed by the inspector general’s office and Justice Department earlier this year due to a lack of enough evidence to bring charges.
Rep. Sherrill, a Navy veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, led a bipartisan group of Members of Congress in 2019 calling on Secretary Wilkie to implement specific measures to track and prioritize VA medical facilities equitably serve women veterans.
“One of the very first things I did when I got to Congress was write to Secretary Wilkie, urging him to take immediate action to ensure VA medical facilities equitably serve women veterans and to address the reports of sexual harassment at the VA,” said Sherrill.
When the allegations were first reported, Secretary Wilkie promised a full, independent investigation into the allegations. However, the OIG report released Dec. 10 said Wilkie and other senior leaders instead worked to discredit Goldstein, investigating her background and spreading rumors about her honesty.
Wilkie accused both Takano and the Inspector General of politicizing the investigation, searching for ways to smear VA leadership despite finding no evidence of crimes. Wilkie criticized the Inspector General’s office as “more dedicated to scoring political points than improving the department.”
In its report, the OIG noted it paused its interviews with senior officials in March to ensure the officials were not distracted from responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and resumed interviews in August. When resumed, OIG stated its investigation was hindered by the refusal of several senior VA officials to cooperate with requests for follow-up interviews to clarify and resolve conflicts that arose when additional information was gathered after their initial interviews.
The individuals refusing to cooperate included Secretary Wilkie, his Chief of Staff Pamela Powers, Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs James Hutton, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Curtis Cashour.
These refusals were made despite the OIG’s commitment to keep follow-up interviews as short as possible and to provide flexible times and locations. Wilkie and Powers asked the OIG to provide written questions so they could consider whether to respond, an approach not consistent with the OIG’s investigative practices.