All major American veterans’ organizations have called for the ouster of Robert Wilkie as secretary of veterans affairs over the shameless treatment by him and his senior staff of a veteran who says she was sexually assaulted. When men and women who served in uniform speak almost with one voice, it is not politics, as Mr. Wilkie would have it, but the will of the people he is meant to serve.
The case is straightforward. In September 2019, Andrea Goldstein, a Navy veteran, Reserve intelligence officer and staff member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, reported to the police that while in the main lobby of the V.A. Medical Center in Washington, a man “bumped his entire body against mine and told me I looked like I needed a smile and a good time.”
The response from Mr. Wilkie and his senior staff was to start trying to smear Ms. Goldstein, even though the man who assaulted her was a contractor with a criminal record and there had been persistent problems of harassment reported by women at the medical center.
It’s all in the report that the V.A. inspector general released last week, including the assertion that the inspector general’s investigation into Mr. Wilkie’s behavior was “hindered” by stonewalling by Mr. Wilkie and senior officials who refused “to cooperate with requests for follow-up interviews.”
The initial criminal investigation prompted by Ms. Goldstein’s allegations was closed in January with no charges filed against the contractor. But despite the inspector general’s caution to Mr. Wilkie and his senior team to say nothing other than that the case was closed without charges, the secretary promptly characterized Ms. Goldstein’s charges as “unsubstantiated.” That, responded Inspector General Michael Missal, was not what he said or meant.
In February, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Mark Takano, a Democrat from California, asked the inspector general to investigate the attempts to undermine Ms. Goldstein’s credibility. Last week, the inspector general came out with a detailed report and concluded: “The evidence is replete with examples of V.A. senior leaders undertaking defensive actions and engaging in confrontational messaging while failing to recognize the need to take corrective action to address known problems.”
Within hours of receiving Ms. Goldstein’s complaint, the report said, the senior V.A. officials began actively assailing her credibility and trying to dig up dirt on her. The V.A. police ran a background check on Ms. Goldstein two days before one was run on the contractor she had accused.
It was to this report by the inspector general that veterans reacted with fury. The director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the largest and oldest veterans’ organization, issued a scathing statement charging Mr. Wilkie and members of his senior staff “violated the trust of a fellow veteran who came forth with serious allegations of sexual assault. Instead of taking this veteran’s allegations seriously, the secretary and his key staff sought to discredit and vilify the veteran. We will not tolerate this behavior at our V.A.”
On Wednesday, the V.F.W. and other leading veterans’ groups — the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Amvets and Vietnam Veterans of America — formally requested that President Trump fire Mr. Wilkie, saying that he “no longer has the trust or confidence of America’s veterans.”
Some veterans’ service organizations have also called on Congress to investigate whether Representative Dan Crenshaw, a Republican from Texas who as a Navy SEAL officer was once deployed on the same Middle East mission as Ms. Goldstein, contributed to the efforts to discredit her. Mr. Crenshaw has denied the allegation, but he refused to be interviewed by the V.A. inspector general.
While some members of Congress have joined in the call for Mr. Wilkie’s ouster, none are Republicans. Veterans’ affairs are not a partisan matter. The Department of Veterans Affairs has gone through many storms in recent years, and two of the three past secretaries left under a cloud. But the department’s core mission was and is to honor Abraham Lincoln’s promise: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”
Today, we would add “and her,” of course. There are more than 18 million men and women who have served in the armed forces in the faith that their government — “our V.A.,” as the V.F.W. phrased it — would care for them. If they believe the V.A. leader has failed them, and he has, that should be the end of the matter, and of Mr. Wilkie’s tenure as secretary.