Tester & 15 Senators Urge Secretary to Review Impact of Political Agendas at the VA

Senators Urge VA to Examine if Politically Motivated Actions have Impacted VA’s Delivery of Care, Benefits to Veterans

(Big Sandy, Mont.) – Following a ProPublica investigation suggesting outside political influence on policy decisions at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), U.S. Senator Jon Tester is leading the fight to ensure the VA is maintaining its focus on serving the best interests of the nation’s veterans.

In a sweeping investigation that turned up hundreds of internal documents, ProPublica reports that three unofficial, unelected political advisors, none of whom are veterans, have considerable sway over the beleaguered Department and its top leaders.

Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, along with Senators Ron Wyden (D-Or.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa,), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) today urged newly confirmed VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to “right the ship” on behalf of America’s veterans to keep political influence out of the VA.

“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 are urging Wilkie to examine the impact on the VA’s ability to deliver health care and benefits to veterans following former Acting VA Secretary Peter O’Rourke’s decisions to appoint and install key senior leaders without input from a Senate-confirmed appointee, move forward on the implementation of President Trump’s recent Executive Orders that strip VA employees of certain workforce protections, interfere with the independent Inspector General’s efforts to hold the VA accountable, and reassign or remove nonpartisan VA employees who do not have political ties.

The Senators are also urging 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 wrote. “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.”

The Senators’ letter can be read online HERE.