Warner, Kaine urge VA Secretary to review political influence at Department of Veterans Affairs

Mark Warner, Tim Kaine on continuing resolutionFollowing a ProPublica investigation showing potential political influence on policy decisions at the Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.) joined Senate colleagues urging the recently confirmed VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to review the actions taken by unconfirmed appointees in advance of Secretary Wilkie’s arrival.

“We are concerned that many of the actions taken by VA in the time between your departure from the Acting Secretary role and your swearing-in as Secretary were planned and executed to serve political interests and agendas, rather than to serve the best interests of veterans,” the Senators wrote. “We believe you have the faith and confidence of the Senate to lead the Department based on the values you expressed in multiple Member meetings and in your confirmation hearing.  We want you to succeed, and veterans need you to succeed.  For that to happen, you will need to right the ship at VA by reassuring the nonpartisan career employees that their institutional knowledge and dedication is valued, and by ensuring that everyone under your direction operates with one principle in mind – to serve the nation’s veterans and not anyone’s political interests.”

The Senators specifically ask Secretary Wilkie to examine the impact on the VA’s ability to deliver health care and benefits to veterans following actions by Acting VA Secretary Peter O’Rourke’s to appoint and install key senior leaders without input from Secretary Wilkie; to implement President Trump’s recent Executive Orders that strip VA employees of certain workforce protections; to interfere with the independent Inspector General’s efforts to hold the VA accountable; and to reassign or remove nonpartisan VA career civil servants. The Senators also urge Secretary Wilkie to take his cues from veterans and not unaccountable, politically motivated voices outside the VA.

“We encourage you to recall the commitment you made in your confirmation hearing to do what is best for veterans, even if it is in disagreement with others in the Administration,” the Senators added. “It is clear now that direction is often coming to VA from voices who are outside the Department, who may have financial interests in the contracting decisions made, and who have not been entrusted to make decisions, through election to office or confirmation by the Senate, on behalf of this nation’s veterans.  As Secretary, our nation’s veterans are counting on you to safeguard them and the Department from inappropriate engagement from outside individuals.”

Joining Sens. Warner and Kaine on the letter were Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Jon Tester (D-MT), Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Maggie Hassan (D-NH).

A copy of the letter can be found here.

 

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