Watchdog says VA Secretary David Shulkin misused federal funds

A report found David Shulkin, MD, also improperly accepted tickets to Wimbledon during his summer trip to Europe, but the secretary calls the report inaccurate and biased.
By Jessica Davis
02:47 PM
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veterans affairs secretary David Shulkin

VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD. Credit: Veterans Affairs

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, MD, is under fire by the VA Office of Inspector General for improperly accepting tickets to Wimbledon and misusing government funds to cover his wife’s airfare for his European trip last July.

The report found the 11-day trip cost more than $122,000 in taxpayer dollars and was misrepresented to ethics lawyers when Shulkin returned to the U.S.

According to officials, Shulkin’s Chief of Staff Viveca Wright Simpson doctored an official email to secure taxpayer funding for the travel costs for his wife’s airfare that cost more than $4,000.

In doing so, she “may have violated federal criminal statutes.”

In fact, the OIG referred the incident to the Department of Justice to consider it for potential criminal prosecution, but DOJ declined to prosecute.

To top it off, the OIG said that Shulkin himself misrepresented how he obtained the tickets to the Wimbledon tournament when discussing the issue with ethics officials. While he claimed that he received them as a gift from a close friend, the woman who gave the tickets to Shulkin had only met him three times.

Officials found that the woman who gave Shulkin the tickets did so “because of Secretary Shulkin’s official position.”

The report found Shulkin’s trip led to a misuse of VA resources and employee time, as an employee came with Shulkin on the trip “as a personal concierge to plan tourist activities.”

Three other top-level VA staffers and a six-member security detail also accompanied Shulkin, who was in Europe for a VA conference in London and to meet with Danish and British officials.

In a letter included in the report, Shulkin condemned the findings.

“Your staff’s conduct related to this investigation reeks of an agenda,” Shulkin wrote. “Your portrayal of this trip is overall and entirely inaccurate… [and] forms an inappropriate judgment regarding what my family chooses to do with our free time on a Saturday afternoon.”

“My wife and I did what millions of people do every day. We went to a sporting event, on our personal time, with a friend,” he continued. “The entire report seeks to question and undermine the validity of the trip and its importance to furthering the work of the VA.”

In fact, Shulkin pointed out that OIG disregarded that Shulkin met with the Danish Ministry of Health to discuss healthcare implementation and veteran policies.

His lawyers also refuted all of these points to USA Today on Tuesday, calling the report unfair and inaccurate. His lawyers also claim the inspectors were biased against Shulkin from the start of the investigation.

“The draft report ignores critical facts, presenting a one-sided version of events that cast aside evidence contradicting your chosen narrative,” the lawyers, Justin Shur, Eric Nitz and Emily Damrau, wrote in the report obtained by USA Today.

Shulkin is well-respected by colleagues and by Congress. The secretary has made modernizing the VA and its health and IT systems a top priority during his tenure.

In fact, one of his biggest projects has been to shine a light on bad actors within the agency, as the VA has been under much scrutiny for exorbitant wait times and ill-behavior from several of its medical centers in recent years.

“I have publically invited floodlight scrutiny of the issue, so I fully understand the importance of your Office’s mission,” Shulkin wrote. “ If you had properly considered my testimony and recognition of the facts of this case, however, I am confident you would have concluded that I have conducted myself properly, ethically and in-line with how I have always served the VA.”

Shulkin believes the report needs to be substantially revised to make sure it accurately describes the events.

Shulkin is not the first federal agency head to be found to have used public funds for personal use. Department of Health and Human Services chief Tom Price used private jets on multiple occasions during his brief tenure, and resigned shortly afterward.

 

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com