The VA is in the spotlight again, but this time over false statements and deception in order to make taxpayers pay for a 10-day trip to Europe for the VA Secretary’s wife back in 2016.
The VA Secretary, David J. Shulkin, is actually an Obama appointee, but he’s kept his post under the Trump administration and now it looks like that decision is about to bite Trump in the you know where:
WASHINGTON POST – Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin’s chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements to create a pretext for taxpayers to cover expenses for the secretary’s wife on a 10-day trip to Europe last summer, the agency’s inspector general has found.
Vivieca Wright Simpson, VA’s third-most senior official, altered language in an email from an aide coordinating the trip to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government — then used the award to justify paying for his wife’s travel, Inspector General Michael J. Missal said in a report released Wednesday. VA paid more than $4,300 for her airfare.
The account of how the government paid travel expenses for the secretary’s wife is one finding in an unsparing investigation that concluded that Shulkin and his staff misled agency ethics officials and the public about key details of the trip. Shulkin also improperly accepted a gift of tickets to a Wimbledon tennis match worth thousands of dollars, the investigation found, and directed an aide coordinating the trip to act as what the report called a “personal travel concierge” to him and his wife.
“Although the [inspector general’s office] cannot determine the value VA gained from the Secretary and his delegation’s three and a half days of meetings in Copenhagen and London at a cost of at least $122,334, the investigation revealed serious derelictions by VA personnel,” the watchdog concluded.
So by altering the email that was given to the ethics committee for approval, Shulkin’s Chief of Staff made it sound like his wife had to be there and thus it was necessary to cover her expenses.
When the deception was first report, Shulkin denied doing anything wrong and blamed the media for bias:
The Washington Post first raised questions about Shulkin’s Europe trip — in particular the Wimbledon tickets and his wife’s expenses — in a story in September.
In a response to Missal, Shulkin called his portrayal of the trip “entirely inaccurate” and said it “reeks of an agenda.”
“It is outrageous that you would portray my wife and me as attempting to take advantage of the government,” he wrote.
When questioned about altering the mail, Shulkin’s Chief of Staff didn’t deny altering it. She only said that she ‘doesn’t remember’ doing it apparently:
In an interview with investigators, Wright Simpson said she did not recall whether she altered the email, Missal wrote. In a second interview, he wrote, she did not directly respond to questions about the email, repeatedly saying “I responded appropriately to the email.”
She did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment from The Post.
Here’s more on the trip:
On the trip to Europe last July, Shulkin and his wife, Merle Bari, were accompanied by Wright Simpson and Poonam Alaigh, then the acting undersecretary of health, as well as an aide and a six-person security detail. The group spent three-and-a-half days meeting with Danish and British officials to discuss veterans’ health issues. Sightseeing occupied the other days, including tours of Westminster Abbey and Denmark’s Rosenborg Castle, a cruise along the Thames and shopping in Sweden.
In September, in response to The Post’s questions about the trip, VA issued a statement that said “all of Shulkin’s activities on the Europe trip, including his attendance at Wimbledon, were reviewed and approved by ethics counsel.”
That statement was not accurate, Missal found.
There’s much more about this at the link if you want to read more.