Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., says he will reimburse travel expenses that were the subject of an internal investigation into a trip he took to Europe this summer, but has no plans to resign and claims that people within his department may be trying to undermine his authority.
But reimbursing the VA for his wife’s $4,312 travel expenses as well as the cost of Wimbledon tennis tickets may not put the issue to bed. One lawmaker has called for Shulkin’s resignation, and four Democrats have called for a hearing about the trip.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said it’s time for Shulkin to step down in the wake of the VA Office of Inspector General report, which indicated Shulkin and his staff misused taxpayer money to pay for some of the travel to Denmark and London in July and that one senior staff member deliberately altered an email to justify that the VA should pay for Shulkin’s wife’s travel.
And all Democratic members of the House Subcommittee on National Security have sent a letter (PDF) calling for a hearing about the trip, stating that the inspector general report raises serious concerns about Shulkin’s judgment and his management of senior staff.
Shulkin defended his actions to reporters Thursday, telling various outlets that he and his staff followed all the processes involved with travel approval, but will abide by the inspector general’s recommendations to reimburse the VA and U.S. Treasury because the matter has become a distraction from his work at the department. He also admitted during a hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee that the “optics of this [travel] were not good.”
VA chief David J. Shulkin: “I do recognize the optics of this are not good.”— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) February 15, 2018
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.): “It’s not the optics that are not good. It’s the facts that are not good.” https://t.co/xAX5dpd5F1
After the hearing, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Shulkin said he believes someone hacked into his senior staffer’s email to impersonate her and altered the text of the email that became a focus of the inspector general’s investigation. He also said he was concerned there may be people within his department who were trying to undermine him.
And there does appear to be unrest within the department, according to The New York Times, which cited an email exchange between a VA senior adviser and a political appointee that indicates Shulkin had fallen out of favor with the department and it was considering possible solutions to replace him. Shulkin told the publication he was investigating some political appointees in the department for misconduct and had met with White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly about his concerns.