Veterans Secretary David Shulkin is facing increased scrutiny from Congress, after the Wednesday release of an internal watchdog report, which found Shulkin’s 9-day government trip to Europe in the summer of 2017 at times was more like a personal vacation, as investigators said Shulkin’s top aide misled ethics officials at the VA, which allowed his wife’s travel costs to be paid for by taxpayers.
The review accused Shulkin’s Chief of Staff, Viveca Wright Simpson, of altering two emails to ethics officials in order to have the VA authorize the travel costs of Shulkin’s wife, who joined him for the Europe trip.
The report also found that Shulkin wrongly accepted a gift of tickets to Wimbledon, that a VA employee was basically used by Shulkin as a “personal travel concierge to plan tourist activities,” and that not enough documents were ever turned over to investigators to figure out the true cost of the trip to the VA.
The details of the report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General drew quick reaction in Congress, where one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), wasted little time in demanding Shulkin’s resignation.
“It’s exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn’t help our veterans,” Coffman tweeted, as he said that Shulkin should resign from the VA.
Meanwhile, the top members of the House and Senate committees which have jurisdiction over the VA issued a statement that stopped just short of calling for Shulkin to leave his post.
“We believe that public officials must be held to a higher standard, and whether intentional or not, misusing taxpayer dollars is unacceptable,” read the statement from Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Jon Tester (D-MT), along with Reps. Phil Roe (R-TN) and Tim Walz (D-MN).
“We're counting on Dr. Shulkin to actively address all of the allegations outlined in this report,” the group said. “Our veterans deserve no less,”
The IG review found that while the VA delegation spent nine full days in Europe, “there were only three-and-a-half days of meetings” on the official schedule, as the report declared the 2017 trip a “misuse of VA resources.”
The release of the report came a day before Shulkin is scheduled to testify before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, where the subject is certain to be discussed.
Shulkin isn’t the only Cabinet official in the Trump Administration who has faced scrutiny over travel; excessive travel costs was part of the reason that Tom Price resigned as Secretary of Health and Human Services earlier this year.
Also, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have faced questions about their travel.
Shulkin did not accept most of the findings in this report, as his legal counsel sent a lengthy letter to the VA Inspector General, accusing the VA of running an unfair investigation, which itself was beset by misconduct.
“Even after you provided us with a copy of your draft report, your office's tactics seem intentionally designed to prevent a full airing of the facts and circumstances underlying the trip,” Shulkin’s legal team wrote in a blistering 16 page letter, which was attached to the Inspector General report.