Dec 12, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Veterans groups call for VA secretary's dismissal after watchdog audit

U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaking in the White House in June 2020.
U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaking in the White House in June 2020. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Four of the largest U.S. veterans groups on Friday called for the immediate dismissal of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie after a watchdog audit concluded he mishandled an investigation into sexual assault allegations at a veterans hospital, AP reports.

Driving the news: The VA inspector general's report, released Thursday, said that Wilkie sought to discredit a veteran and congressional aide who said she had been assaulted at a VA medical center last year. The report also said Wilkie's staff worked to spread negative information about the woman.

  • Wilkie and other VA officials did not to fully cooperate with VA Inspector General Michael Missal's investigation.
  • The lack of cooperation prevented Missal from concluding whether Wilkie or others violated any government policies or laws while handling the complaint, AP noted.

What they're saying: Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and AMVETS said Wilkie lost the trust of veterans and that they lost all confidence in the secretary.

  • “The accountability, professionalism and respect that our veterans have earned, and quite frankly deserve, is completely lost in this current VA leadership team,” said B.J. Lawrence, executive director of VFW, per AP.
  • “Our veterans cannot wait until Jan. 20, 2021, for a leadership change,” he added. “Secretary Wilkie must resign now.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also called for Wilkie's resignation, saying on Saturday that he "has not only been derelict in his duty to combat sexual harassment, but has been complicit in the continuation of a VA culture that tolerates this epidemic."

  • "He has lost the trust and confidence to serve, and he must immediately resign."

Wilkie, meanwhile, has called the allegations false.

  • "After nearly a year of investigation, interviews with 65 people and analysis of nearly 1.5 million documents, VA’s inspector general cannot substantiate that I sought to investigate or asked others to investigate the Veteran," Wilkie said.

The big picture: Three sources close to the situation told Axios in February that the White House was disappointed by the way Wilkie and the VA handled the sexual assault allegations.

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