VA Secretary's European Trip Was An Ethics Mess Funded By Taxpayers

VA chief of staff doctored email to cover up travel expenses inspector general finds

Another misstep by the Department of Veterans Affairs was revealed on Wednesday when a VA Office of Inspector General report concluded that Secretary David J. Shulkin and his Chief of Staff Wright Simpson made false statements and altered documents about a trip to Europe last summer. Shulkin has denied any wrongdoing.

"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", he wrote.

The report states the group's schedule included "significant time for preplanned tourist activities by Secretary Shulkin, his wife, and others on the delegation", and that Shulkin said he'd worked on VA matters when there were no official functions.

Mr Missal also claims that Mr Shulkin's chief of staff doctored an email from an aide coordinating the trip to make it appear as though Mr Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government. He did not immediately comment on the report. But investigators found Gosling said she didn't even know the name of Shulkin's wife. The tickets' face price was about $350, but their resale value, according to the report, was about $3,500. The office referred Simpson's actions to the Department of Justice (DOJ), saying they "may have violated federal criminal statutes".

The report on Shulkin and his staff cited "poor judgement and/or misconduct" on the part of the secretary. He received the seats as a gift from a professional acquaintance, Victoria Gosling, a former CEO of the 2016 Invictus Games, and then misrepresented to the news media that the gift had been preapproved by ethics counsel. Shulkin did not consult ethics officials prior to accepting the tickets, it adds, and the relationship between Gosling and the couple was ultimately not deemed sufficient to meet the "personal friendship" exception to accepting gifts.

The inspector general said Shulkin should reimburse the Treasury for the cost of his wife's travel and should offer to pay his Wimbledon host for the cost of the tickets, and, if she declines, pay that money to the USA government.

The trip in total cost the VA at least $122,334, the report found. Shulkin said he mailed a check Wednesday to reimburse the government for the cost of his wife's airfare, $4,312, and is moving to reimburse a British corporate executive for the tennis tickets. In the most recent instance, the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs was accused of a cover-up that involved altering emails relating to a trip that cost taxpayers more than $120,000. They said Shulkin spent the "vast majority" of his time on official business. "VA OIG reports 'must be accurate, ' 'must be fair, ' and 'must be objective, '" Shulkin's attorneys wrote in a 16-page rebuttal. "We went to a sporting event, on our personal time, with a friend", he continued.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and a veteran of both the Army and the Marine Corps, said in a Tweet that "It's exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn't help our veterans".

"Regardless of what Cabinet people can do or not do, I think they ought to ride like I do in the back of the bus", said Iowa Republican Sen. In England, Shulkin attended a London Summit in which mental health issues of veterans were discussed.

Shulkin and his lawyers denounced the report as "one-sided" and said investigators bent the evidence "in an effort to manufacture violations where none exist".

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