Veterans groups say Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., has their full support, despite allegations that he and his staff misused taxpayers’ money to pay for a European trip and amid reports that political appointees within the agency may be trying to push him out.
Last week, Shulkin faced a tough VA Office of Inspector General report that slammed him for using taxpayer money to travel to Denmark and London in a July trip that mixed business and pleasure. The report also accused one senior staff member of deliberately altering an email to justify that the VA should pay for Shulkin’s wife’s travel expenses.
Although he disputed the claims in the report, by the end of the week Shulkin agreed to reimburse the agency, and the staff member who allegedly doctored the emails, Chief of Staff Vivieca Wright Simpson, had announced her retirement.
Meanwhile, Shulkin claims that people within the department have been trying to undermine his authority and may have hacked Simpson’s account to alter the text. And he indicated in a Politico interview that he has the support of the White House to purge the agency of those who are deliberately defying his authority.
Shulkin described the internal strife as a classic power struggle with those within the agency who oppose his attempts to work in a bipartisan manner. Although Shulkin is a holdover from the Obama administration, he was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as VA secretary and was confirmed with unanimous support.
Among his supporters: The Veterans of Foreign War, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and AMVETS.
.@SecShulkin has the support of the Big 6 #Veteran Service Orgs. We continue to call on @POTUS @realDonaldTrump to establish a unified voice between @WhiteHouse & @DeptVetAffairs in support of the secretary. He must make it clear: be willing to follow the secretary, or leave. pic.twitter.com/Gh2oywbLMQ— AMVETS (@AMVETSHQ) February 20, 2018
Keith Harman, national commander of the VFW, said in a statement that Trump needs to “clean house” of the distractors within the agency. AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly called on Trump to give Shulkin “the space necessary to do his job and continue your focus on fixing the VA.”
The DAV said it was extremely concerned about efforts to undermine Shulkin’s mission to strengthen and modernize the VA rather than privatize the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system.
“It’s troubling to think there are efforts working against what is best for veterans and jeopardizing what we believe has been strong leadership within VA, to include the secretary and new deputy secretary,” the DAV said in a statement. The group said that although it doesn’t always agree with Shulkin, he is a “proven advocate for veterans.”
The American Legion also indicated its support for Shulkin, noting his work to implement electronic health records, improve patient satisfaction, decrease waiting times for care and expand veteran access to mental healthcare.
“We have been encouraged by the great progress Shulkin has made and believe that he remains the best person to lead this important federal public institution on the behalf of the American people,” said American Legion National Commander Denise H. Ronan in the statement.