Hamel v. Department of Veterans Affairs

On behalf of veterans in Arizona and Washington, D.C., and in conjunction with the veterans group, VoteVets, Democracy Forward filed a lawsuit 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.

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 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. Before the court made any rulings, the case was dismissed without prejudice in light of the Senate’s confirmation of Robert Wilkie.


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