VA head David Shulkin under fire amid reports he took European trip on taxpayers’ dime, but his lawyers claim foul

Lawyers for David Shulkin, secretary of Veterans Affairs, say a soon-to-be-released report that criticizes him for using taxpayers’ money to pay for a trip to Europe is unfair, according to USA Today.

USA Today got a hold of an eight-page rebuttal by Shulkin’s lawyers that they drafted in response to a pending VA inspector general report that the agency paid for Shulkin’s wife airfare to Europe in July as well as leisure time during the 10-day trip. The trip was part of Shulkin’s plans to meet with healthcare officials in Denmark and attend a summit in London, according to the publication.

UPDATE: VA Inspector General wants Shulkin to reimburse agency for unallowed expenses involved on his European trip

Although the VA inspector general’s office didn’t comment on the report, USA Today said it was able to determine the investigation’s findings based on the rebuttal from Shulkin’s lawyers. In addition to the airfare, the newspaper reports that the IG office is looking into whether it was improper for Shulkin and his wife to accept tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The report indicates the person who gave them the tickets was not a personal friend of the couple, as the ethics officials who approved the gift had been led to believe.

Shulkin’s lawyers, Justin Shur, Eric Nitz and Emily Damrau, however, say the report is inaccurate, unfair and biased, according to the newspaper. The IG report, they reportedly wrote, ignores critical facts and casts aside evidence that contradicts the findings. It would have been far more costly for Shulkin to fly back to the U.S. from Denmark and then fly to London four days later. The lawyers claim VA ethics officials approved Shulkin’s wife’s coach airfare at taxpayers’ expense and VA policy allows employees to combine office travel with personal travel.

The USA Today article doesn’t list how much money the trip cost taxpayers.

However, the recent USA Today report raises ethical concerns about yet another member of the Trump administration. Late last month Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resigned after reports of conflicts of interest over her purchase of tobacco stock after she took the position at the agency. And Tom Price, M.D., resigned as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services after a Politico investigation revealed he spent nearly $1 million of taxpayers’ money on chartered flights and military planes for government and personal trips instead of less expensive commercial flights.

Trump appointed Shulkin to lead the VA in January 2017 and help the agency rebound from a nationwide scandal over secret cover-ups of long wait times that jeopardized patient safety. Since his confirmation last February, Shulkin has quickly removed VA directors of facilities that had a history of care problems and most recently outlined a plan to improve quality of care at low-performing VA hospitals.