Sunday, February 18News That Matters

Investigation shows 'misuse of VA resources' in VA chief's taxpayer-funded Europe trip with his wife

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, accompanied by his wife, his acting undersecretary of health, her husband, two other staff members and a six person security detail (WHY?) went on a whirlwind 11-day trip to Europe. VA Secretary Shulkin and staff were there to meet with Europe officials to discuss veterans issues, but the entourage spent at least half the trip acting as tourists, enjoying Wimbledon, river cruises and sightseeing—all at an estimated cost of $122,000 to U.S. taxpayers. 

The VA Inspector General opened an investigation into the extended Europe trip and found both an improper use of taxpayer funds and ethics violations by Shulkin’s Chief of Staff Vivieca Wright Simpson. From USA Today:

His chief of staff, Viveca Wright Simpson, made false representations to a VA ethics lawyer and altered an official email to secure approval for taxpayer funding of Shulkin’s wife’s flights, which cost more than $4,000, the VA inspector general found.

Shulkin told ethics officials the tennis tickets were provided by a personal friend, Victoria Gosling, an adviser for the Invictus Games, a sporting event for wounded warriors. But the inspector general concluded that was not the case, they had only met three times at official events, and when interviewed by investigators, Gosling couldn’t remember his wife’s name.

The inspector general also found the excursion led to a “misuse of VA resources.” Shulkin and his wife, Merle Bari, took the trip with three other VA executives and a six-member security detail ostensibly to attend meetings in Denmark and a summit on veterans’ affairs in London.

It’s hard to fathom why they thought this would be a good use of taxpayer money, especially from the head of the perpetually cash-strapped Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“This was time that should have been spent conducting official VA business and not providing personal travel concierge services to Secretary Shulkin and his wife,” Inspector General Michael Missal wrote.