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

VA chief of staff doctored email to cover up travel expenses, inspector general finds
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Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinIs a presidential appointment worth the risk? It’s time to end the scare tactics and get to work for our veterans House Democrats open investigation of Trump associates' influence at VA MORE's chief of staff doctored an email in an effort to cover up travel expenses for Shulkin's wife, according to a VA inspector general's report released Wednesday.

The report found that Shulkin's chief of staff, Viveca Wright Simpson, made changes to an official email to get approval for taxpayer funding for Shulkin's wife's flights costing more than $4,000.

The report also said Shulkin misused government resources by accepting Wimbledon tickets and airfare for his wife when he took a trip to Europe last summer.

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Shulkin, who served as a VA official during the Obama administration and was nominated as secretary by President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE, had said the Wimbledon tickets were from a personal friend, according to the report.

 

However, the inspector general found that Shulkin had only met the woman who provided the tickets — Victoria Gosling, an adviser for the Invictus Games — three times at official events.

The report said Shulkin had also misused a subordinate official's time.

About half of the trip was spent sightseeing and Shulkin had told an aide to plan personal activities for him and his wife, investigators found.

The report said Shulkin made "extensive use of official time."

“This was time that should have been spent conducting official VA business and not providing personal travel concierge services to Secretary Shulkin and his wife,” Inspector General Michael Missal wrote.

According to the report, the trip, which cost the department at least $122,000, resulted in a "misuse of VA resources."

The report recommended that Shulkin reimburse the VA for his wife's airfare and reimburse Gosling for the cost of the Wimbledon tickets and "any other tangible benefits." It also recommends that the VA "audit the expense vouchers, travel authorizations, and the time and attendance records for all travelers and take any appropriate action to correct any errors.

The VA and Shulkin twice made misleading statements to the media about the trip, the inspector general found.

First was after the department found out The Washington Post was working on a story about trip. The assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs wrote a statement for the Post he told the inspector general was dictated by Shulkin that said, “all activities including Wimbledon were reviewed and approved by Ethics Counsel,” according to the report. In fact, Wimbledon was neither reviewed nor approved.

The second time, according to the report, was during a video interview with the Post when Shulkin was asked whether the Wimbledon tickets were a gift of “the folks at the Invictus Games” and he replied, “no.”

In a letter to Missal, Shulkin wrote that the report "draws conclusions based on subjective and arbitrary criteria."

“It is outrageous that you would portray my wife and me as attempting to take advantage of the government,” Shulkin wrote.

He said he would reimburse the costs of the airfare and Wimbledon tickets.

Shulkin took the trip with his wife, Merle Bari, and three other executives from the department last summer for meetings in Denmark and a summit on veterans' affairs in London.

The couple stayed in Europe for four days between the end of the conference in London and the meetings in Denmark. Shulkin's lawyers claim that it would have been more expensive for the couple to fly back and forth between the two events.

Concerns about the trip were raised last year. An investigation was opened after The Washington Post reported that Shulkin and his wife had gone shopping and sightseeing while he was in Europe for a conference in London and meetings in Denmark.

Updated at 4:03 p.m.

Rebecca Kheel contributed.