House VA Subcommittee Ranking Members Call for IG Investigation and Committee Hearing on Reports of Unaccountable Influence at VA by Friends of President Trump

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Washington, D.C. – Today, House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee Ranking Member Julia Brownley (D-CA) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Annie Kuster (D-NH) requested that the VA Inspector General investigate recent reports of undue influence by unaccountable outside individuals on the operations of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Brownley and Kuster also called for the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to hold a hearing on whether these “advisors” to President Trump have violated any laws.

These requests follow a recent report from ProPublica that personal friends of President Trump — who have no official role within the VA, whose qualifications to advise on veterans’ policy are unclear, and who may have undisclosed conflicts of interest — are issuing directives to VA staff and otherwise exerting influence over VA operations without any accountability. In May, Brownley and Kuster called for an investigation into earlier reports of interference at the VA by personal friends of the President and now are asking for the scope of that inquiry to be expanded.

“Taxpayers want to know that their tax dollars are going to high-quality care for our nation’s heroes, not to line the pockets or egos of President Trump’s billionaire boys club,” said Brownley. “Sadly, these reports are just one more example of this administration’s inability to operate in an open and transparent manner, threatening the very bedrock of our democracy at the expense of those who made great sacrifice to protect our country.”

“I am deeply disturbed by reports that friends of President Trump, who are not government officials and have no military experience, are having significant influence over the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Kuster. “Our brave men and women in uniform have sacrificed so much to protect the freedoms we cherish, and they deserve to have people who are knowledgeable and committed to their best interests fighting for them every day. I urge Secretary Wilkie to do what is right and seek counsel from people who have expertise and appreciation of veterans’ needs, instead of yielding to wealthy outsiders who should have no say in VA policies that impact millions of people.”

The full text of the letters and PDF copies are available below.

The Honorable Michael J. Missal
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Inspector General Missal:

On May 2, 2018, we led a letter requesting your office investigate attempts by outside, non-governmental individuals to influence the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) transition to a commercial, off-the-shelf electronic health record system. Unfortunately, a ProPublica article published August 7, 2018,[1] suggests that the attempts by unofficial advisors to influence the activities of the VA extends far beyond undermining the largest Information Technology modernization program undertaken by the VA in decades.

 

ProPublica reported that over the last year and a half, a group of three individuals, all members of the President’s private resort of Mar-A-Lago, daily talked with VA officials and reviewed “all manner of policy and personnel decisions.”[2] Mr. Ike Perlmutter, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Marvel Entertainment, LLC, Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, an Internal Medicine specialist, and Mr. Marc Sherman, an attorney without healthcare industry experience, have reportedly instructed VA to begin new programs and have apparently and egregiously demanded fealty by VA employees by travelling to Mar-a-Lago to “kiss [their] ring”[3] using taxpayer funded travel. Not only are these individuals making policy decisions without nomination by the President or Senate confirmation, they have reportedly made personnel decisions that adversely affected the careers of numerous VA employees who felt their counsel was contrary to the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans.


The instances uncovered by ProPublica’s investigative team require immediate attention. Together with previous concerns regarding undue influence over the multibillion-dollar EHR modernization effort, we respectfully request that the Inspector General investigate any and all VA officials that removed, demoted, or otherwise levied adverse action against any VA employee or official due to the counsel, advise, influence, or instruction of Mr. Perlmutter, Dr. Moskowitz, Mr. Sherman, and any other individuals unofficially advising the President, the Secretary, or other officials on VA matters.

Additionally, we request that the Inspector General seek an accurate accounting of alleged personnel actions by reviewing the emails, memoranda, meeting minutes, issue briefs, and any other material of VA officials like then-Acting Secretary Peter O’Rourke and other recent political appointees that may have related to the alleged personnel actions. Ensuring VA officials are not improperly using authorities and offices, such as the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, or violating equal employment opportunity rights is crucial for a well-functioning VA.

Veterans deserve and demand a transparent and accountable VA, yet these actions do nothing to satisfy those needs. Rather, this episode sows further distrust in the institutions designed to serve the needs of those who “borne the battle.” Veterans, Congress, taxpayers, and all Americans deserve answers.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

 

[1] Isaac Arnsdorf, “The Shadow Rulers of the VA,” ProPublica, August 7, 2018, https://www.propublica.org/article/ike-perlmutter-bruce-moskowitz-marc-sherman-shadow-rulers-of-the-va (accessed August 9, 2018).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

The Honorable Phil Roe
Chairman
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
United States House of Representatives
335 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Roe:

We write today to share our serious concerns about recent reports of undue influence by unaccountable outside individuals on the operations of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). As Members of this Committee dedicated to effective oversight of the VA and full transparency of taxpayer resources, we have been extremely alarmed by reports of inappropriate interference into the actions of the VA by personal friends of the President, whose qualifications and conflicts of interest are completely unknown.

On August 7, 2018, ProPublica reported that over the last year and a half a group of three individuals, all members of the President’s private resort, “spoke with VA officials daily” and reviewed “all manner of policy and personnel decisions.”[1] These conversations were private and hidden from Congressional oversight, these individuals have not disclosed any potential conflicts of interest, and their actions are not subject to the ethics guidelines that are essential to the strength of our democracy. Most concerning of all is the potential that these conversations and undue influence were used to financially benefit those involved, at taxpayer expense, or that their lack of qualifications and undue influence harmed the delivery of quality care to our nation’s veterans.

As such, we respectfully request a full committee oversight hearing into whether these non-governmental and unaccountable individuals have improperly attempted to impact the work of the VA. We believe the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee would benefit from testimony from the individuals named in the recent reports, as well as federal employees named in these reports who continue to work at the VA, especially former Acting Secretary Peter O’Rourke.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

[1] Isaac Arnsdorf, “The Shadow Rulers of the VA,” ProPublica, August 7, 2018, https://www.propublica.org/article/ike-perlmutter-bruce-moskowitz-marc-sherman-shadow-rulers-of-the-va (accessed August 9, 2018).

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. @wjabbe – I can only agree with your first line.

    As for the article itself, the unsigned first letter is rife with grammatical errors, and I found it difficult to read. Reading the ProPublica article however, it doesn’t actually name the “former administration official” who suggested that VA administrators had to “kiss the ring”–the article would be more trustworthy if it did.

    On a related point, Shulkin advocated against more help for the VA from the private medical sector, while this so-called triumvirate suggested the opposite. One only has to look at the new and improved “Choice Act” to witness the significant amounts of salary inducements for medical doctors within the VA (my own GP makes over $150K/yr). This improved ACT does nothing for veterans’ choices, and also does nothing for so-called “specialty clinics” which veterans have to subscribe to whether they like it or not–at their expense of long-term travel (for which travel reimbursements not all veterans are eligible; local “COBC’s” are not–and cannot–perform specialty functions, even though a choice exists for veterans of a myriad of qualified private doctors located nearby).

    Once again, Congress is turning a blind eye to all of this waste, at enormous taxpayer expense…

  2. This is better than nothing but frankly this group should consist of mostly Veterans and Citizens empowered to look into everything at the VA. Israel lover liar con artist draft dodger is an arrogant pathological liar, cheater, con artist who thinks he is above all law and all rules. He is a shameful disgrace to this country. As Gordon has noted the military to day is nothing but a bunch of gangsters running around the world stealing, looting and terrorizing everything and every one. No one should join today. Many of the whores in Congress are also dual citizens with the cesspool Israel. This is obviously a blatant conflict of interest and should be prohibited by law. Israel did 9/11/01, with the aid of traitors Bush, Cheney and the four star generals. All of them should be sitting in a jail cell for life, not retired on lavish pensions with SS protection.
    https://wikispooks.com/wiki/9-11/Israel_did_it