Embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin faced House lawmakers Thursday about his taxpayer-funded travel to Europe last year, a 10-day trip that included choice accommodations for a Wimbledon tennis match and several sightseeing excursions with his wife.
The Committee on Veterans’ Affairs chairman, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), opened the hearing with a statement noting that public officials controlled taxpayer money need to be held to a “higher standard,”
The hearing follows a damning report issued Wednesday from VA’s inspector general, Michael J. Missal. Shulkin is challenging the findings as “unfair.”
The report says that Shulkin’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, altered an aide’s email to make it appear as though Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government, justification for allowing the government to pay for Shulkin’s wife to join him on the trip. VA paid more than $4,300 for her airfare, the report says.
“I’d like to address the report released by the inspector general yesterday regarding Secretary Shulkin’s trip to Europe last year. Mr. Secretary, like many members on this dais, I was disappointed in the allegations raised by this report,” Roe said in his opening statements.
“I’ve gotten to know you well over the last year, and I believe your intentions to serve and care for our nation’s veterans are clear. With that said, as public officials, we are all expected to be held to a higher standard and be good stewards of tax dollars,” he added.
Shulkin’s woes mark the latest setback for VA, which has faced withering criticism over a host of scandals, including long wait times for appointments and medical malpractice.
He is among five current and former Trump administration Cabinet members to be investigated by inspectors general over travel expenses. Tom Price resigned last year as health and human services secretary amid widespread outrage over his use of taxpayer-funded charter flights.
Officials have said their travel on private planes or military aircraft was approved by their agencies’ ethics officials.
Shulkin has called the portrayal of his European trip “entirely inaccurate,” saying it “reeks of an agenda.” On Wednesday, he told Military Times that he would repay any questionable travel expenses and accept the inspector general’s recommendations.
The inspector general’s report was met with disappointment and disgust in Congress. At least one lawmaker, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), called for Shulkin’s resignation after reading the report.