Senators demand ‘full investigation’ into VA Sec handling of sexual assault case at DC VA

Abbie Bennett
February 25, 2020 - 2:34 pm
Wilkie

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File

This story originally published Feb. 25, 2020 at 3 p.m. It was updated at 3:20 p.m.

Six senators are demanding an investigation into how Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie handled a sexual assault reported by a veteran at a VA hospital last year. 

Senators Patty Murray, Sherrod Brown, Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, Bernie Sanders and Tammy Duckworth sent a letter to the VA Office of the Inspector General on Monday calling for the investigation into what they called “deeply concerning reports” that VA officials -- prompted by Wilkie -- “improperly sought information” about the woman’s past “and mischaracterized the results of (the) investigation into the assault in order to discredit her.” 

Last month, Wilkie announced that the investigation into the assault reported by Andrea Goldstein, a Naval Reserve intelligence officer and senior congressional advisor, was closed and that no criminal charges would be filed. Wilkie also called Goldstein’s allegations “unsubstantiated.” 

But the VA Inspector General responded to Wilkie, saying that his office never told VA that the allegations were unsubstantiated and multiple sources told Connecting Vets that it was, in part, a lack of functioning cameras at the Washington, D.C. VA hospital that led to no charges being filed. Senators called the lack of cameras a “deeply concerning failure” of VA “to maintain a safe environment.” 

Earlier this month, an anonymous complaint was filed with the House Veterans Affairs Committee alleging that Wilkie sought damaging information about Goldstein in an attempt to discredit her, spoke about it multiple times to VA staff and to at least one member of Congress. 

Wilkie and VA officials strongly denied the allegations. 

"I never would do that to a fellow officer -- it is a breach of honor," Wilkie said in a statement.

Congress officials examine whether VA Sec sought to discredit vet who reported assault at VA hospital

“If these reports are true, such an abuse of power and government resources would be outrageous and inexcusable,” the senators wrote, adding that if a member of Congress were involved, the Ethics Committee should also investigate. 

“Secretary Wilkie’s decision to cast doubt, paint the individual as dishonest and discredit her traumatic experience demonstrates VA’s continued inability to ensure women veterans are welcomed and supported by the country they have served,” the senators wrote, adding that such “toxic leadership” could “make it less likely that women veterans -- the largest growing demographic of veterans” will seek care at VA. 

“The secretary’s failure to take corrective action and, even worse, to retaliate against the veteran, is absolutely unacceptable,” they wrote. 

Following the anonymous complaint, Inspector General spokesman Fred Baker told Connecting Vets the OIG received a request from House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. to investigate and said “our office is reviewing the request at this time.” Baker confirmed that OIG still was reviewing the request as of Tuesday and also had no plans at this time to reexamine Goldstein's case.

VA spokeswoman Christina Mandreucci referred questions about the senator's letter to OIG, though she added that "the only investigation into Ms. Goldstein's allegations was that of the independent inspector general and U.S. Attorney -- an investigation Sec. Wilkie requested immediately upon learning of the allegations."

That investigation was closed, she said, and neither OIG or the U.S. Attorney recommended "any corrective or personnel actions or general suggestions for improvement" to VA.

"VA remains focused on maintaining a welcoming environment to all who have worn the uniform, including the 41 percent of women veterans who are enrolled in VA care," Mandreucci said in a statement. 

-

For confidential help with sexual assault 24/7, call the National Sexual Assault hotline at 800-656-4673 or go to online.rainn.org.

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett

Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.