Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s chief of staff altered an email to create a pretext for taxpayers to pay for Shulkin’s wife to accompany him on a 10-day trip to Europe last summer, the agency’s inspector general reported Wednesday.
Shulkin also improperly accepted a gift of Wimbledon tickets during the trip, and a VA employee’s time was misused planning tourist activities for Shulkin and his entourage, according to the report by Inspector General Michael Missal.
Vivieca Wright Simpson changed language in an email from an aide coordinating the trip to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government, Missal said. The VA ended up paying more than $4,300 for her airfare.
The report comes as Shulkin — the only holdover from the Obama administration in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet — is attempting to overhaul the troubled VA and, in particular, its health care system.
The VA is spending billions of dollars for veterans to receive care outside its understaffed facilities, and has embarked on a multi-billion-dollar upgrade of its health IT system despite grumbling from internal experts that a planned contract ignores many pitfalls and could result in a fiasco.
Shulkin, meanwhile, has faced political pressures from within the administration. The Washington Post reported last week that the White House wants to remove Shulkin's deputy secretary, Thomas Bowman, as a "warning shot” to Shulkin, because he has met with lawmakers who oppose Trump’s plans for the VA.
In his response, Shulkin said he had nothing to do with the arrangements for the trip and that spouses routinely accompanied VA secretaries to the annual London summit that was part of the visit.
The action of IG staff in the investigation “reeks of an agenda,” Shulkin wrote in a letter accompanying the report, adding they had treated his family and staff with “extreme contempt, bordering on badgering and harassment.”
In a separate latter, Bowman said the inspector general had not given the VA enough time to respond to the allegations. A draft of the report was leaked on Monday.