Now that the belligerent businessman Donald Trump is in power, one thing is for sure — there will be no shortage of scandals to go around.
According to a VA inspector general report released on Wednesday, VA Secretary David Shulkin went against protocol in accepting both Wimbledon tickets and publicly funded airfare for his wife during a trip overseas with other VA officials last year.
According to the report, Shulkin claimed that the tickets were from a personal friend, and thus wouldn’t violate any protocol, but an investigation found that such wasn’t the case. The woman who provided the tickets, Victoria Gosling, couldn’t even name Shulkin’s wife when interviewed by investigators. According to investigators, Gosling and Shulkin had only met three times at official events.
As for the publicly funded airfare for his wife, Shulkin has slightly less responsibility for that issue, with the inspector general having found that Shulkin’s chief of staff Viveca Wright Simpson misrepresented information to a VA ethics lawyer and deceptively tailored the content of an official email in her efforts to get the taxpayer funding for Shulkin’s wife’s travel approved.
The Shulkins, as mentioned, went overseas last year for the stated purpose of attending meetings in Denmark and London. However, besides the already mentioned issues, the inspector general found that Secretary Shulkin misused the department’s time and resources by spending at least half of the ten day trip sightseeing with his wife, sightseeing that was conducted with an aide’s assistance.
Inspector General Michael Missal was biting in his assessment of the situation, writing that the time spent by at least one department employee on the sightseeing was time “that should have been spent conducting official VA business and not providing personal travel concierge services to Secretary Shulkin and his wife.”
Congressional leaders were briefed about the findings of the VA inspector general and expressed dismay at his findings in a Wednesday statement.
Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., along with Reps. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Tim Walz, D-Minn. — the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House VA Committees, respectively — spoke as follows:
‘We believe that public officials must be held to a higher standard, and whether intentional or not, misusing taxpayer dollars is unacceptable… We are still reviewing the full report, but after our briefing from VA Inspector General Mike Missal, we are disappointed by the details described in the IG report regarding the trip taken by Dr. Shulkin and other VA officials, and we hope that the secretary will fully address the IG’s findings.’
The inspector general wants Shulkin to reimburse the costs of the Wimbledon tickets and the airfare for his wife, in addition to taking disciplinary action against his chief of staff.
Shulkin, ironically, is a holdover from the Obama administration, but is far from the only Trump official to have become ensnared in a scandal surrounding their apparent misuse of taxpayer dollars for travel.
Secretary for Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned last year after it came out that he had cost taxpayers nearly half a million dollars in charter flights.
More recently, controversial EPA head Scott Pruitt came under fire for having allegedly used public funding improperly during his travels.
Trump has routinely touted his efforts to bring the VA up to modern standards during his first year or so in office under the leadership of David Shulkin.
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