Deputy Secretary Of Veterans Affairs Fired After Only Five Months On The Job
Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary James Byrne was terminated on Monday in the midst of controversy over the department’s handling of a sexual harassment and assault allegation — just five months after receiving Senate confirmation to the position.
According to CNBC, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement: “Today, I dismissed VA Deputy Secretary James Byrne due to loss of confidence in Mr. Byrne’s ability to carry out his duties.”
Wilkie added that the “decision is effective immediately,” though he did not offer details as to why Byrne was fired.
CNBC noted that prior to his confirmation, “Byrne had served as acting secretary of the VA since August 2018” and “was named general counsel of the VA a year earlier.”
Before joining the Trump administration, Byrne worked for defense contractor Lockheed Martin as chief privacy officer and lead attorney for information technology, cybersecurity and counterintelligence.
The VA scandal leading to his ouster began with a sexual harassment and assault complaint filed by Navy veteran and House committee advisor Andrea Goldstein, who claimed that last fall, a man in the cafeteria in the VA Medical Center in Washington sexually harassed and assaulted her during her visit.
Byrne was briefed on the matter by the VA’s internal watchdog, CNBC reported.
In am eventual letter to Goldstein’s boss — House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) — Wilkie reportedly suggested that her claims had been unsubstantiated, effectively calling her a liar.
“We believe that V.A. 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,” Wilkie wrote to Takano.
Goldstein subsequently penned an article on Jezebel.com criticizing Wilkie for his letter. The article was published shortly before news of Byrne’s dismissal became public knowledge.
Goldstein’s allegations were investigated by VA Inspector General Michael Missal, who said he discussed the claims with Byrne and VA Chief of Staff Pamela Powers in mid-January and “specifically told them that the investigation had been closed without charges and that no other characterization could or should be made regarding the outcome of the investigation.”
In a letter to Wilkie two weeks ago, Missal wrote: “Neither I nor my staff told you or anyone else at the Department that the allegations were unsubstantiated.”
The IG continued: “I trust that this clarifies this matter and you will ensure that no one is informed that our investigation concluded that the sexual assault allegation at issue was not substantiated.”
On Monday, Byrne lost his job.