Wilkie, an imbalanced congressional aide who alleged sexual assault at a VA facility, confirms IG Probe
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie has denigrated a veteran who claimed he was sexually assaulted at a Virginia hospital and sought to undermine his credibility, a new investigation by the department’s inspector general has revealed. However, the report did not corroborate reports that Wilkie actively investigated the former serviceman or ordered others to look into his background.
The VA IG has been investigating allegations since February that Wilkie took steps to discredit Andrea Goldstein, a Marine Reserve intelligence officer and advisor to the House Veterans Committee, after he said he was groped at VA Medical Center in Washington, DC in September.
In a report released Thursday, Inspector General Michael Missal said his office could not substantiate the charge that Wilkie was actively seeking evidence that Goldstein filed “at least six equal employment opportunities complaints” while she was in active service.
But the VA IG found that VA officials began to take action within hours of Goldstein’s report which appeared to seek reasons to undermine his credibility. According to the investigation, on the very day of the complaint, they began discussing whether Goldstein had complained of verbal abuse from an AV provider. And, according to the investigation, they performed a background check on Goldstein and released the findings before a background check on the accused was carried out, then launched a media campaign to question Goldstein’s credibility, targeting nine national news organizations.
“The evidence is replete with examples of senior VA leaders taking defensive action and engaging in confrontational messages while failing to recognize the need for corrective action to address known issues,” the report said. “… The tone set by Secretary Wilkie was unprofessional at minimum and at worst provided the basis for senior officials to release information to domestic journalists to question the credibility and track record of the veteran who filed the complaint. for sexual assault. “
According to the report, senior VA officials refused to engage with the IG office for follow-up interviews as part of the investigation and failed to take corrective action to address the complaint.
They also encouraged members of the media to focus on Goldstein – digging through his background for any history of filing sexual harassment complaints.
According to the report, Assistant Under Secretary for Public Affairs Curt Cashour reached out to a reporter to suggest he look into the veteran’s past – a request he said he made on his own, but in light of Wilkie’s comments.
“The response from Secretary Wilkie and senior VA officials to the veteran’s sexual assault complaint has been troubling,” Missal said in a statement Thursday. “Examining the veteran’s background is contrary to VA’s stated purpose of serving veterans with respect. Every VA employee should be committed to making VA facilities safe and welcoming places where such complaints are met with the highest standards of professionalism and responsiveness.
In September 2019, Goldstein, a senior staff member of the House Veterans Committee’s Women Veterans Task Force, said she was offered, checked and groped by a man at the Washington, DC Medical Center, GO.
During a press conference a week after the alleged assault, Goldstein said several VA employees witnessed the incident but did not respond. The police were only called, she added, after reporting the incident to “several employees – an employee of the information desk, the patients’ lawyer and finally my doctor.”
In response to the allegations, the Chairman of the House Veterans Committee, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., Called on the department to ensure that its employees undergo witness intervention training so they know how to react, intervene and respond to incidents of harassment or aggression.
The VA IG has opened an investigation into the incident, but no charges have been filed. One of the reasons VA officials gave for not pursuing the case was that the facility’s security cameras were not working, hampering the investigation.
A month later, after receive information that Wilkie actively tried to discredit Goldstein, Takano and the committee asked Missal to investigate the secretary.
In November, James Byrne, former VA assistant secretary, told several media that he was fired for refusing to take part in any effort to damage Goldstein’s reputation.
I thought, ‘Oh, my God, he went from just being insane mad to maybe he really tried to destroy this woman,’ Byrne said. “ At the time, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, he did that is going to try and dig up the dirt on this woman,’ and he, of course, exaggerated. “
In response to the IG report, Wilkie said the allegations were false, claiming that after interviews with 65 people, the IG “did not identify any documentary evidence to corroborate” the statements of a VA official who brought the charges.
Wilkie did not name the individual, who he said declined a formal interview with the VA IG.
According to the report, Byrne “has refused to voluntarily appear before IG investigators for a formal interview, and the OIG does not have subpoena power to testify to force the testimony of non-VA employees.”
Due to his inability to substantiate the allegations, Wilkie said the IG “focused on policing and criticizing confidential internal deliberations among VA staff.”
“The IG has established a straw man in which any discussion or examination of public and high profile allegations against the department, or a general desire to know the truth is somehow inappropriate,” Wilkie said. “This is an impossible standard that no organization – including the Inspector General – could meet.”
“VA takes all allegations of sexual assault seriously … The tortuous logic used by the IG to attempt to justify abdicating its responsibility to provide the ministry with a report on this complaint is extremely baffling and contrary to policy IG, ”added Wilkie. .
A spokesperson for VA IG said Thursday the office had never presented a criminal case to federal prosecutors regarding Wilkie or any other VA official involved in the Goldstein case.
View full article
© Copyright 2021 Military.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.