- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2020

The deputy head of the Veterans Administration was abruptly fired without explanation Monday, a surprise move after the embattled agency appeared to have achieved a measure of executive stability.

In a two-sentence statement, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said he was dismissing Deputy Secretary James Byrne, just five months after the former Marine Corps office and Justice Department lawyer received an overwhelming, bipartisan Senate confirmation vote.

“Today, I dismissed VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne due to loss of confidence in Mr. Byrne’s ability to carry out his duties,” Mr. Wilkie said in this statement. “This decision is effective immediately.”

Rep. Mark Takano, the California Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said he had spoken to Mr. Wilkie on Monday morning about the department and would seek answers on the firing.

“Deputy Secretary Byrne was confirmed by the Senate — the American people deserve to know why he was dismissed,” Mr. Takano said. “As chairman of this committee, it is my duty to ensure veterans receive timely access to care and benefits without delay and I want to make sure this personnel decision will not impact that commitment.”

Mr. Wilkie did not elaborate why Mr. Byrne, a onetime Lockheed Martin executive who was the VA’s general counsel from 2017 until his nomination, was let go, but the agency has been in turmoil since a congressional staffer who is a military veteran reported being sexually assaulted in September in the atrium of the VA hospital in Washington, D.C. The investigation was eventually closed because there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove a criminal case.

CNBC reported that Mr. Wilkie subsequently wrote a letter to Mr. Takano questioning the incident.

“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,” Mr. Wilkie wrote, according to the CNBC account.

On the same day Mr. Byrne was fired, the feminist website Jezebel published an article by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee staffer, Andrea Goldstein, about the incident. She sharply criticized Mr. Wilkie’s letter.

“He was implying that a fellow Navy [officer] was a liar. He was implying that I was a liar,” Ms. Goldstein wrote.

The VA inspector general pushed back against Mr. Wilkie’s claim, saying they never concluded the claims were unsubstantiated. According to Military.com, the VA IG briefed Mr. Byrne about the status of the case and warned him against drawing an incorrect conclusion.

Mr. Takano, Ms. Goldstein’s boss on Capitol Hill, said Mr. Wilkie has agreed to discuss the matter in more detail.

“I look forward to speaking with him,” he said.

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