Saturday, 18 August, 2018

VA head changed records to hide travel boondoggle, report alleges

House Republican calls for VA Secretary's resignation amid travel controversy Republican Lawmaker Pushes for VA Secretary's Resignation
Herman Weaver | 15 February, 2018, 15:30

The 84-page report is a response to an anonymous complaint filed with the Office of Inspector General Michael J. Missal - alleging that chief of staff Viveca Wright Simpson altered the email to use more than $4,000 in taxpayer funds for the Shulkins' travel.

It also suggested that Shulkin reimburse the USA government for more than $4,000, and that he and his staff displayed "poor judgment and/or misconduct".

In addition, documentation was "inadequate to assess the accuracy and appropriateness of the trip costs". They attended an worldwide summit in London that focused on veterans' issues and had meetings in Copenhagen.

"The OIG concludes that Ms. Gosling gave a gift of the Wimbledon tickets because of Secretary Shulkin's official position", the report states. "I have followed and complied with the recommendations".

Shulkin, who has been the head of the VA for a little more than a year but was a holdover from the Obama administration, defended himself Wednesday in a blistering statement, calling the investigation and the report a "direct assault on my spouse, my character, and my unblemished record of service to the Veterans Affairs Administration". Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; and Sen.

Zinke and Pruitt are being investigated by agency watchdogs for their trips, which they said ethics officials approved.

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"We believe that public officials must be held to a higher standard, and whether intentional or not, misusing taxpayer dollars is unacceptable", they said in the statement. "Our veterans deserve no less".

That news came just days after Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt was found to have taken a number of expensive flights, including a first-class flight between NY and Washington, D.C. and a $7,000 business-class trip to Milan. But Shulkin never was scheduled to be honored. According to the report, that misrepresentation was forwarded to the Department of Justice, which declined to pursue criminal prosecution. Shulkin did not consult ethics officials prior to accepting the tickets, it adds, and the relationship between Gosling and the couple was ultimately not deemed sufficient to meet the "personal friendship" exception to accepting gifts.

Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate and House VA committees issued a joint statement, saying they were "disappointed by the details described in the IG report".

She told investigators that she did not recall whether she altered the email, Missal wrote.

In London, the personal activities included excursions to the Churchill War Rooms, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, and Westminster Abbey; a Thames River cruise; and visits to St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower of London (including the Ceremony of the Keys), the Tower Bridge, Shakespeare's Globe, London Eye, and Windsor Castle. "However, it was clear from the extensive communications between Mr. Gough and Dr. Bari that he spent many hours attending to the personal aspects of the trip on their behalf that exceeded what was required to notify the security detail of their proposed movements", said the report. A VA ethics lawyer at first denied a request to have the agency pick up the expenses for Shulkin's wife, Merle Bari, but told Simpson, the chief of staff, that the agency could justify the expense under certain conditions _ such as if Shulkin were receiving an award.

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