VA Secretary Allegedly Tried to Smear House Staffer for Reporting Assault

VA Secretary Allegedly Tried to Smear House Staffer for Reporting Assault
Robert Wilkie Image: (Getty)

This week Andrea Goldstein wrote an op-ed for Jezebel in which she described what she experienced after reporting being sexually assaulted at the Washington D.C. VA hospital.

In the essay Goldstein talks about the lifesaving services VA healthcare has provided her and many many other veterans, specifically women veterans whose lived experiences might not be understood outside the VA healthcare system. She also discusses how the actions of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, might impact women like herself from engaging with those services, after he wrote a letter to the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, for which Goldstein works, attempting to discredit her claims.

“He used coded language, but the words still stung. The Secretary of the second largest federal agency knew how his words would resonate. He was implying that a fellow Navy veteran was a liar. He was implying that I was a liar.” she wrote.

Now, according to a new report from ProPublica, it would appear that not only was Wilkie attempting to discredit Goldstein in the letter he sent to her boss, but he was also trying to pry into her past life in an attempt to discredit her even further.

In an anonymous complaint filed to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, since obtained by ProPublica, it’s claimed that while Goldstein’s allegation of assault was being investigated by the inspector general, Wilkie initiated his own investigation into Goldstein’s credibility and military record, looking for damaging information he might use to discredit her.

Although Wilkie denies these claims, House committee spokeswoman Jenni Geurink said they are looking into it, “We have been contacted about possible actions taken within VA which may have utilized government time and resources to attempt to tarnish a member of our staff’s character, discredit her and spread false information about her past in retaliation for her reporting of a sexual assault at VA,” she said. “This ordeal has been draining and unfair to Ms. Goldstein.”

Wilkie allegedly discussed information about Goldstein with senior staff, and those members who were specifically responsible for public relations, in an attempt to tarnish the credibly of both Goldstein and her accusations, and explore avenues by which the information might be made public. While whatever information he found was never publicized, his letter to congress did state explicitly that Goldstein’s claims were unsubstantiated.

Wording that the inspector general who oversaw the case drastically disagrees with. “Neither I nor my staff told you or anyone else that the allegations were unsubstantiated,” the inspector general said in response, “Reaching a decision to close the investigation with no criminal charges does not mean the underlying allegation is unsubstantiated.”

Wilkie has, as of late, changed his tune and said that there would be a renewed push to get answers to Goldstein’s accusations. Sentiments that the inspector general, once again, disagrees with. “We are not working with anyone to seek additional information at this time,” a spokesperson for the IG said. Wilkie clarified his statements, saying he only meant he would like to receive more information on the initial findings.

It’s a convenient time for Wilkie to feign additional support for Goldstein, or any at all for that matter, just as the House committee is deciding how to respond to the complaint filed against him. The committee typically deals with complaints from employees or patients, but this time it appears that the call is coming from inside the House.

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