- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The No. 2 official at the Department of Veterans Affairs was fired because he didn’t “gel” with his colleagues and not because of his handling of the case of a Capitol Hill staffer who said she had been sexually assaulted at a District of Columbia VA Hospital, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said Wednesday.

Speaking at the National Press Club, Mr. Wilkie said the decision to oust Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Byrne wasn’t an easy one to make, but offered little insight into a firing that has revived questions on Capitol Hill about management stability at the department.

“There are times in any company, in the military and even in Congress when some people in the organization just don’t gel with the team,” Mr. Wilkie told reporters at what was billed as a “State of the VA” address. Mr. Byrne had only been officially on the job since September, after an overwhelming, bipartisan confirmation vote in the Senate.


SEE ALSO: VA secretary fires his deputy


“It was a simple business decision,” Mr. Wilkie said Wednesday. “If people don’t live up to performance standards, I have taken action.”

Mr. Wilkie said there was nothing personal in the decision, adding his fired deputy was “a man of great distinction in terms of service to the country,” he said.



Mr. Byrne, who has yet to comment publicly on his dismissal, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and was commissioned into the Marine Corps. He later went to law school, where he worked in the defense industry and for the government. Before joining the VA, he most recently served as the general counsel for the Pentagon.

Andrea Goldstein, a Navy reserve officer and House Veterans Affairs staffer, said she had been attacked in September in the atrium of the District’s VA Medical Center.

“We immediately referred it to the Justice Department [and] took it out of the hands of the VA police,” Mr. Wilkie said. “That’s part of our commitment to ensure that everyone who walks into the VA is taken care of. When anything happens, we make sure the highest authorities are informed.”

He said there had been no dispute with his now former deputy about how the VA was handling the assault allegations. 

The firing “just happened to occur when the [assault] story re-emerged again,” Mr. Wilkie said Wednesday.

Charges were not filed in the assault case, but the VA inspector general chided Mr. Wilkie for a note he sent to House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman, Mark Takano, California Democrat, characterizing Ms. Goldstein’s allegations as “unsubstantiated.”

Mr. Wilkie said he wasn’t satisfied with how the case was resolved. On Tuesday, he met with VA Inspector General Michael Missal about it and said it was imperative that the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Ms. Goldstein receive as much information from the VA about the case as possible.

“We’re going to make a renewed push to get answers,” he said. “Our women veterans have to know if the facilities are safe.”

Regarding the VA management shakeup, Mr. Takano said this week, “I have many questions about what Deputy Secretary Byrne’s firing means for our veterans and VA as a whole.”

 

 

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