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Inspector General criticizes VA’s handling of sexual assault complaint

WASHINGTON – Inspector General investigation slammed Robert L. Wilkie, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, for “at least unprofessional” response after Navy veteran reports sexual assault at department hospital from Washington.

But the investigation, according to a copy of the report made available Thursday, did not determine that Mr Wilkie attempted to discredit the woman who filed the complaint, or otherwise undermine her allegation by challenging her personality or professionalism.

Michael J. Missal, the Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs, expressed his concern more broadly at what he described as “the immediate and persistent questioning of a veteran’s credibility” by some officials.

“It was disappointing that VA did not deploy all of her strength and focus on determining the need for corrective action to provide a safer and more welcoming environment in their DC and other medical facilities,” said Mr. Missal said.

While inconclusive, the report is another stain on a department that at one point was at the center of President Trump’s political agenda. The agency, historically in trouble, has come under surveillance in recent years for various missteps.

The investigation began after Andrea Goldstein, a former Navy veteran and senior policy adviser to the House Veterans Committee’s Women Veterans Task Force, said she was assaulted at a VA medical facility in 2019.

She said a man slammed his body against hers below the waist and said, “You look like you are having a good time.

Ms. Goldstein’s original complaint was investigated by law enforcement officials and the Inspector General’s office at Mr. Wilkie’s request.

But, in a January letter in which Mr Wilke said officials refused to lay charges, he called Ms Goldstein’s complaint “unfounded”, prompting a reprimand from Mr Missal.

“Neither I nor my staff told you or anyone in the department that the allegations were unfounded,” Mr. Missal wrote in response.

In one published statement Through her lawyer, Ms Goldstein said the report “confirmed” that Mr Wilkie sought to “challenge” his personality rather than investigate his assault. She also lamented the damage the episode had caused to female veterans seeking medical attention.

“Many female veterans have approached me to tell me that this incident has definitely broken trust with the agency and that they will never seek VA health care,” she says. “I hope the next secretary will focus and prioritize eradicating sexual violence in VA and actively work to earn the trust of female veterans.”

In sworn testimony, Mr. Wilkie denied investigating Ms. Goldstein or questioning her credibility during the investigation.

But the mysterious February firing of the Deputy Secretary for Veterans Affairs appears in the report to stem from what official James Byrne believed was a lobbying campaign to discredit Ms Goldstein, which has worried him. At the time, Mr Wilkie said the deputy was dismissed from his post due to a “loss of confidence in Mr Byrne’s ability to perform his duties”.

The inquest cited evidence that senior agency officials pressured departmental police to focus the investigation on Ms Goldstein, including performing a background check on her two days prior to the investigation. Execute one on the man Mrs Goldstein said assaulted her and who was identified in the report. only as an entrepreneur.

The report also criticized the Department’s Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, Curt Cashour, for suggesting to a reporter, “You might want to examine – see – if she’s done this sort of thing in the past.

The report comes in the midst of a series of problems for the department. Last year, the Inspector General reported that a new office created to protect whistleblowers had often retaliated against them. And a crucial $ 16 billion overhaul of the veterans medical records system has been delayed due to technical and training issues.

Other internal issues plagued the department as it struggled, along with the rest of the country’s health system, to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The new report itself has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Inspector General’s new report highlights major problem as veteran hospitals nationwide attempt to lure female veterans – the largest growing segment of the veteran population – amid reports of harassment and worse in the agency’s health centers.

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