Veterans Sue to Block Unlawful Appointment of Robert Wilkie as Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Trump Bypassed Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman In Effort To Push Privatization Agenda, Violating Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Constitution

Washington, D.C. — On behalf of veterans in Arizona and Washington, D.C., and in conjunction with the veterans group, VoteVets, Democracy Forward filed a lawsuit today challenging President Trump’s unlawful appointment of Robert Wilkie as Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs. By bypassing Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman, who White House officials described as an obstructionist to the administration’s plans to privatize healthcare for the nation’s veterans, President Trump violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FRVA), the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, and other federal laws. 

The suit seeks a declaration from the court that Wilkie is not the lawful Acting Secretary and an injunction barring Wilkie and the Department of Veterans Affairs from continuing to represent Wilkie as the Acting Secretary and from taking any action in reliance on Wilkie’s purported authority.

“Robert Wilkie never had hearings to examine his views of veterans’ care, or how he envisions the VA working.  This flies in the face of the entire system of checks and balances that federal statutes and our Constitution call for.  By bypassing Deputy Secretary Bowman, and illegally moving someone from another department over to the VA to act as interim secretary, we believe that the Trump administration is trying to get a head start on its privatization efforts for the department, before hearings on a new secretary even happen. That cannot stand,” said Iraq War Veteran Will Fischer, who serves as Director of Government Relations for VoteVets, a veterans advocacy organization partnering with Democracy Forward on the suit.

Federal law mandates that “the Deputy Secretary shall be Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs … in the event of a vacancy in the office of Secretary,” and the President may only appoint another official if the current officeholder “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office.” The FVRA does not apply if the previous officeholder is fired, as Congress made clear that the law’s purpose was to prevent the President from circumventing Congress’s power over the appointment process at will. 

Recent reporting on Shulkin’s firing has revealed that the Koch-funded group Concerned Veterans of America, the foremost advocate of VA healthcare privatization, schemed to replace Shulkin with a VA Secretary more amenable to their agenda. 

“The laws governing how political vacancies are filled and the limits on when a President can bypass Congress to unilaterally hand-pick an appointee are fundamental to how our government works. In this case, the laws ensure the interests of America’s veterans are represented,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “President Trump can’t ignore federal law just because he wants to privatize VA healthcare to appease his wealthy donors.” 

The suit was filed on behalf of veterans from Arizona and Washington, D.C.  The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.