Shulkin tells House that 'optics' of Europe trip are 'not good'

Doug Mendoza
February 17, 2018

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin had his staff alter an email and made false statements to justify a 10-day European vacation with his wife previous year, according to a report from VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal.

Shulkin has been summoned to answer questions at the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs today. I accept responsibility for that.

Secretary Shulkin's "chief of staff, Viveca Wright Simpson, made false representations to a VA ethics lawyer and altered an official email to secure approval for taxpayer funding of Shulkin's wife's flights, which cost more than $4,000". In the report, the inspector general said Shulkin improperly accepted tickets to Wimbledon in 2017 and used taxpayer dollars for his wife's airfare to Europe.

Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican who yesterday called for Shulkin's resignation after reading the report, asked whether the 11-day trip was essential travel under the VA's guidelines. The scathing report by the US inspector general found Shulkin's chief of staff doctored an email to convince an ethics lawyer to approve a $4,300 ticket to fly Shulkin's wife overseas.

Shulkin got the VA to cover his wife's expenses, including airfare, after the department's third-in-command altered an email to say the Danish government was giving the secretary an award.

Yesterday, Shulkin released a critical response to the report, calling it "a direct assault on my spouse, my character and my unblemished record of service".

The report reads: "Secretary Shulkin stated that he also worked on other VA matters during the trip when there were no official functions, which is corroborated by his handling of matters relating to a media crisis that developed relating to allegations of substandard care at the Manchester VA Medical Center".

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Investigators referred their findings about Wright Simpson to the Department of Justice, which declined prosecute, though the actions might have violated criminal statutes, the report states.

The chairmen and ranking Democrats of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs committees, U.S. Sens.

Among those on the trip were Shulkin and his wife, Dr. Merle Bari, along with VA Chief of Staff Vivieca Wright Simpson; then Acting Under Secretary for Health Dr. Poonam Alaigh; and Program Specialist James (Gabe) Gough.

The inspector general's audit is the latest in a controversy over misuse of government travel by top Trump administration officials.

Shulkin's overseas trip may have involved too much leisure time at taxpayers' expense, according to the report by the VA's inspector general, Michael Missal.

The lone Obama era holdover also improperly accepted a gift of tickets to a Wimbledon tennis match worth thousands of dollars, the investigation found. At least four other Trump Cabinet members have faced criticism for government travel, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Shulkin has said that he will comply with all of the IG recommendations. "This was time that should have been spent conducting official VA business and not for providing personal travel concierge services to Secretary Shulkin and his wife".

"I came here, I left a very good career in the private sector for one reason, and that's [because] I believe so strongly that our veterans deserve better care", he told reporters afterward.

Other reports by GizPress

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