VoteVets rails against Trump’s ‘spur-of-the-moment’ choice of Wilkie as VA chief

Matt Saintsing
May 18, 2018 - 4:05 pm

Photo by Pfc. James Bourgeois

Two groups argue that President Donald Trump’s surprise nomination of Robert Wilkie as the next VA secretary is illegal.

VoteVets, a progressive veterans advocacy group, along with Democracy Forward Foundation, a nonprofit legal organization, filed a lawsuit last month arguing that Trump illegally sidestepped the legitimate order of succession when he chose Wilkie as acting VA secretary.

But to back up their newest claim that Wilkie can’t serve as acting secretary, while at the same time, be the nominee to lead the agency, they cite 5 U.S.C. 3345(b)(1), which bars a person from serving as an "acting officer" should the president nominate "such person to the Senate for appointment" to that office. 

"It is abundantly clear that Robert Wilkie cannot be nominated to be VA Secretary, while serving as Acting Secretary," said Will Fischer, Iraq War Veteran and Director of Government Relations of VoteVets in a statement to Connecting Vets.

“Once again, this president just made a spur-of-the-moment decision on veterans care, without any consideration, without any thought, and clearly without the usual process, which would have caught this issue with the law."

Trump had previously nominated White House physician Adm. Ronny Jackson for the position, but Jackson withdrew from consideration in April after allegations about his workplace conduct came to light. Among the accusations, are claims he was careless with prescription medications and being drunk on duty.

"So, our question is this: At what point will our lives actually matter to this guy?," Fischer asked.

"The absolute lack of thought Donald Trump puts into these life and death decisions for veterans is absolutely sickening and infuriating.  We veterans deserve much, much better,” he added.

In the lawsuit filed last month, the two organizations maintain that Thomas Bowman, who was Shulkin’s second-in-command, should have been named the acting secretary.

"It looks like, once again, President Trump decided not to talk to his lawyers before making a major announcement," said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy.

"President Trump’s off-the-cuff approach demonstrates how little regard he and his administration have for the interests of America's veterans, and only creates additional uncertainty about whether and how veterans will continue to receive the benefits they've earned."

Trump also didn’t notify veteran service organizations of his plan to nominate Wilkie.

Denise Rohan, the American Legion’s national commander, said she welcomed the news that Trump had chosen a nominee—but didn’t mention Wilkie by name in her statement.

But on Capitol Hill, lawmakers struck a different tone.

The leadership of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), and its Democratic ranking member Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) both praised Wilkie, and Tester added he had enjoyed a "good working relationship" with him.

Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee said Wilkie would be an "effective permanent secretary."

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