VA chief Wilkie wants to reexamine alleged sexual assault that he called unsubstantiated
By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 5, 2020
WASHINGTON — A high-profile case of a congressional staffer claiming she was sexually assaulted at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital could be reexamined after VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said he is unhappy with the results of the investigation into her allegations that he initially called “unsubstantiated.”
“I’m not satisfied with the resolution ... I have to know, Ms. Goldstein has to know, our women veterans have to know our facilities are safe,” Wilkie said Tuesday. “We’re going to make a renewed push to get answers.”
Authorities declined to file charges after Andrea Goldstein, the senior policy adviser for Congress’ Women Veterans Task Force, said she was sexually assaulted at the VA hospital in Washington D.C. This spurred tense exchanges between Goldstein, Wilkie, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and the VA inspector general after the VA secretary questioned the veracity of Goldstein’s allegations.
Christina Mandreucci, a spokeswoman for the VA, clarified Wilkie’s comments Tuesday about the case, saying the VA secretary was calling on the inspector general and U.S. Attorney's Office to provide more details on the investigation to VA leadership and Congress.
But the VA Inspector General's Office dismissed Wilkie's call to further examine the investigation, saying there is no intention to reopen the case.
"The investigation is closed,” said Fred Baker, the IG's director of communications. "We have spoken to all relevant parties and have received all necessary information about the case. We are not working with anyone to seek additional information at this time."
Goldstein, who serves in the Navy Reserve, said she was assaulted Sept. 20 by a man inside the front atrium at the VA hospital. Goldstein told The New York Times that a man slammed her below the waist and told her, “You look like you could use a good time.”
Wilkie scolded Goldstein and Takano, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, for making “unsubstantiated claims.”
“We believe that VA is a safe place for all veterans to enter and receive care and services, but the unsubstantiated claims raised by you and your staff could deter our veterans from seeking the care they need and deserve,” Wilkie wrote in a letter to Takano in January.
VA Inspector General Michael Missal said the secretary was wrong to characterize Goldstein’s allegation as unsubstantiated.
“Neither I nor my staff told you or anyone else at the department that the allegations were unsubstantiated,” Missal wrote in a letter to Wilkie immediately after the secretary's letter to Takano went public. “Reaching a decision to close the investigation with no criminal charges does not mean that the underlying allegation is unsubstantiated.”
Takano in his own statement said Wilkie calling out of a congressional staffer was “shockingly tone-deaf” and “outrageous" and an example illustrating how female veterans’ concerns are often dismissed by the VA.
Goldstein wrote an article for the website Jezebel, which was posted online Monday, blasting Wilkie for shrugging off her reported assault.
“He used coded language, but the words still stung,” she wrote. “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.”
Wilkie’s comments that he might take a second look at the case come amid a news report from Axios that VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne’s firing Monday was due to the perceived botched Goldstein investigation. The VA and the White House contend the report is inaccurate, but neither will elaborate on what lead to Byrne’s ousting.
“It is a simple business decision,” Wilkie said of the Byrne firing. “Some people just don’t gel with the team.”