President Donald Trump acted "unlawfully" when he nominated Robert Wilkie to serve as acting VA secretary, a group of veterans says in a lawsuit filed this week.
In choosing Wilkie, Trump illegally passed over Department of Veterans Affairs deputy secretary Thomas Bowman for the interim post, according to the lawsuit (PDF). The suit seeks an injunction that bars Wilkie from serving as acting secretary and forces the agency to elevate Bowman instead.
Democracy Forward, a nonprofit that monitors the executive branch, filed the suit in conjunction with VoteVets, a left-leaning veterans advocacy group, on Monday in federal court on behalf of veterans in the District of Columbia and Arizona, the organizations announced.
"Robert Wilkie has never had a hearing to examine his views of veterans' care, or how he envisions the VA working," Will Fischer, director of government relations for VoteVets, said in the announcement. "This flies in the face of the entire system of checks and balances that federal states and our Constitution call for."
Wilkie was named acting secretary on March 28 when Trump fired then-Secretary David Shulkin, M.D.
The lawsuit alleges that Wilkie's nomination is part of the administration's goal to accelerate privatization of the VA health system. Shulkin said following his firing that he was ousted because he was "an obstacle" to privatizing the VA.
Bowman also opposes privatization, and the Washington Post reported in February that he was at risk of losing his job for that stance.
Along with @DemocracyFwd, we have filed a suit on behalf of Veterans against the Trump Admin, after Trump bypassed deputy secretary Thomas Bowman in effort to push a privatization agenda, violating the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the Constitution. https://t.co/DA1BpclQ8I pic.twitter.com/zSFoXyypv6— VoteVets (@votevets) April 30, 2018
"This case is not about whether privatization is a good idea or a bad idea," according to the lawsuit. "This case is about who will make that decision and, more broadly, who possesses the authority to make the many day-to-day decisions regarding veterans’ benefits and care that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has to make."
AMVETS has also questioned Trump's decision to name Wilkie acting head of the VA. Wilkie, the Department of Defense's undersecretary for personnel and readiness, who continues to work with that agency as well as the VA, "doesn't know the VA or its problems," AMVETS National Commander Marion Polk said in a letter to Trump.
Trump had tapped Ronny Jackson, M.D., the White House physician, to head the VA full time following Shulkin's ouster. Jackson was also a controversial pick, as he had limited government experience and his policy positions were unknown at the time of his nomination.
Jackson withdrew his name from consideration last week following reports from White House staff that he drank excessively on the job and dispensed medication inappropriately.