US Veterans Affairs Office reports on investigation of Secretary Shulkin’s travel expenses
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US Veterans Affairs Office reports on investigation of Secretary Shulkin’s travel expenses

February 15, 2018

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on a trip VA Secretary David Shulkin made to Europe last year. The OIG investigated Shulkin’s 11-day trip to Copenhagen and London in July, after an anonymous complaint of misuse of VA funds. The VA Department paid $4,312 for his wife’s airfare; the report said this was the result of Shulkin’s chief of staff altering an “official record” email. The report also cited incidents involving Shulkin accepting Wimbledon tickets, and directing a VA employee to coordinate leisure activities on the trip. Shulkin has denied any wrongdoing.

About the email

According to the OIG report, Shulkin’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, altered an email she received from a staff member before forwarding it to the VA’s ethics office. The email suggested Shulkin would be receiving an award while in the Netherlands. The supposed award was allegedly used to justify the department paying for Shulkin’s wife to accompany him as an “invitational traveler.” Shulkin did not receive an award in the Netherlands.

The OIG concluded that Shulkin did not know about Simpson allegedly altering the email. The office referred Simpson’s actions to the Department of Justice (DOJ), saying they “may have violated federal criminal statutes.” The DOJ decided not to prosecute at that time, according to the OIG report. Simpson responded to the report in a statement on Wednesday, saying, “I look forward to inserting facts into the record so it may reflect truth and accuracy and illuminate any further confusion or misrepresentation.”

Wimbledon tickets

The IOG report also said Shulkin accepted two tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament from Victoria Gosling. Gosling served as CEO of the 2016 Invictus Games for wounded veterans in Orlando, Florida. Gosling said she spent time there with Shulkin and his wife, Merle Bari, after initially meeting them in 2015. Gosling said she had extra tickets because of a cancellation, and offered them to Shulkin and Bari “out of friendship.”

The OIG concluded Shulkin had “improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets.” Its report said federal ethics rules prohibit the “acceptance of any gift given because of the employee’s official position,” or if it comes from a “prohibited source.” The OIG concluded the tickets were offered due to Shulkin’s position in the VA. Shulkin’s lawyers said Gosling offered the tickets due to her “personal relationship” with Shulkin and Bari.

The OIG also said Shulkin did not seek the advice of the VA ethics counsel before accepting the tickets as a gift. Shulkin’s lawyers said Gosling was not a “prohibited source” because Gosling does not do business or seek to do business with the VA.

Use of official staff’s time

The OIG concluded that Shulkin directed a VA employee to coordinate Shulkin’s leisure time on the European trip, such as tourist activities with his wife, and that it was a “misuse” of that employee’s official work time. Shulkin’s lawyers said the employee started coordinating the leisure time of his own initiative, and later was referred by Shulkin to his wife for further coordination since Shulkin was “too busy.”

Recommendations and response

The OIG’s report made recommendations, including a review and enhancement of employee training on “travel planning, approvals, and the solicitation or acceptance of gifts.” It also recommended that Shulkin pay for his wife’s airfare of $4,312, and for the Wimbledon tickets. Shulkin’s office responded that he does not agree with the OIG’s conclusions on these two recommendations, and that he will consult with the Office of General Counsel before deciding how to act on them.

Shulkin’s attorneys wrote the OIG a 16-page letter in response to a draft of its report. They said the report presented a “one-sided account” and omitted “critical facts” that “make clear the Secretary has done nothing wrong.”

The OIG report said that in Copenhagen, Shulkin had meetings related to veterans’ health issues and the Danish healthcare system. In England, Shulkin attended a London Summit in which mental health issues of veterans were discussed. The entire trip cost the government at least $122,334, according to the OIG.

Sources: ABC News, The Washington Post