EXCLUSIVE: Senators call recent firings at VA a “Shameful” political purge

Jonathan Kaupanger
July 19, 2018 - 2:35 pm

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Accusing VA of putting politics ahead of veterans, senators sent VA Acting Secretary Peter O'Rourke a letter calling the current actions at VA “shameful.” 

Sen. Jon Tester’s office confirmed that the letter was sent to O’Rourke in response to a story published by The Washington Post , about VA employees who were reassigned or simply fired and not given proper reasons for their termination.  The letter, signed by 12 senators said, “Making determinations about an individual’s employment status based on blind political loyalty is wholly unacceptable.”

Connecting Vets reported on one of these employees yesterday.  Danielle Corazza, the former National Outreach Coordinator for VA's Center for Women Veterans (CWV) was terminated for allegedly violating the Hatch Act when posting to the organization's Twitter page.  Corazza says she was only informed about the violations at her termination.  She also contests that VA omitted a page of her termination letter that contains who to contact in order to get the evidence file used in her termination. 

The senators are demanding O’Rourke halt any further reassignment, demotion, or removal of an employee and reverse any employment actions that have happened in the last month.

The senators point out that O’Rourke was never confirmed by the Senate, and that "these matters can be more appropriately addressed by someone who has the full faith of the Senate to execute such actions."  The Democratic lawmakers say they are troubled by the “reckless” actions of O’Rourke and “a number of other political appointees” who are trying to clean house before the new secretary is approved.  Robert Wilkie, the President’s nominee for VA Secretary, passed the Senate Committee of Veterans’ Affairs with bipartisan support, receiving only one no vote. The date for the full Senate vote on Wilkie is not set yet, but the senators believe Wilkie should make reorganization decisions after he’s confirmed and in place at the agency.

In an email to the Washington Post, Wilkie’s spokeswoman said, “Any decisions made following Mr. Wilkie’s departure as acting [secretary] were made by the current VA leadership and Mr. Wilkie was not aware, nor a part of those decisions.”

O’Rourke’s testimony on July 17th in front of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, is also being used against him. The senators claim, during the hearing, O'Rourke admitted that the reassignments he directed during the six short weeks that he had been Acting Secretary were not based on poor performance. The letter also cities information provided to the Senate VA Committee by employees " who have been the subject of these reassignments and demotions, and those who have resigned rather than accept reassignment or removal, leads us to believe that these individuals are being punished for not expressing loyalty to the current administration, or for questioning programs or policies before their enactment."

A line from an April VA press release also concerns the group of senators. It states, “In a number of cases, employees who were wedded to the status quo and not on board with this administration’s policies or pace of change have now departed VA.”   In the letter, the lawmakers remind O’Rourke “that VA serves all the veterans of this nation, not a single political group or agenda.  And those who work there should not be beholden to loyalty pledges or partisan ploys.”

We’ve reached out to Veterans Affairs for comment on the letter, but have yet to receive a response.

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