Veterans group sues to block Trump's 'Mar-a-Lago Crowd' from advising VA

VoteVets, a liberal veterans group, filed a lawsuit to stop President Donald Trump's reputed "Mar-a-Lago Crowd" from influencing the Veterans Affairs Department and its policies, after a ProPublica investigation revealed the informal council from the private club in Palm Beach, Fla., was helping call shots at the agency, The Hill reports.

For its investigation, ProPublica reviewed documents obtained through the federal Freedom of Information Act and interviewed former administration officials, which revealed three individuals —  Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, Palm Beach physician Bruce Moskowitz, MD, and lawyer Marc Sherman — privately spoke with staff daily about policy and personnel decisions. The group also reportedly tried to influence the agency's plans to switch to a Cerner EHR, and it contributed to the removal of former VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD.

None of the meetings were recorded, which may violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the lawsuit alleges. Moreover, none of the individuals have been members of the military, leading VoteVets to question the trio's ability to provide informed policy recommendations.

"This group has been operating in the dark," Will Fischer, VoteVets' director of government relations, told ProPublica. "Our goal in bringing this lawsuit is to bring these activities to light and make sure our members, veterans and military families are able to see what's going on with our VA and the people directing the activities of our VA."

A VA spokesperson told The Hill Mr. Perlmutter, Dr. Moskowitz and Mr. Sherman have "no direct influence over VA" because they are not administration officials. The spokesperson then directed questions for comment about the lawsuit to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to The Hill's requests.

"That said, we appreciate hearing from anyone who has good ideas about improving care and benefits for veterans, and talk to a broad range of people, including academics, doctors, Veterans groups and many others," the spokesperson added, according to The Hill.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., also joined in the fight, according to the Politico Morning eHealth newsletter. She is calling on the VA's new secretary, Robert Wilkie, to "immediately cut ties" with the group.

The VA spokesperson pushed back against ProPublica's claims that Mr. Wilkie has ever communicated with the group.

"Secretary Wilkie has been clear how he does business — no one from outside the administration dictates VA policies or decisions — that's up to him and President Trump. Period," the spokesperson told The Hill.

The lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 16.

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