IG report: VA chief of staff altered email to cover Europe travel

By Susan McFarland  |  Updated Feb. 15, 2018 at 8:37 AM
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Feb. 14 (UPI) -- The chief of staff for Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin altered an email last year to get European travel expenses paid for Shulkin and his wife, the department's inspector general said in a report Wednesday.

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.

The complaint states that Shulkin and other senior leaders used VA funds to take the official July 2017 trip that was more for personal than business.

The elaborate 11-day trip taken by Shulkin, his wife, senior VA leaders and a six-member security detail included two extensive travel days and three-and-a-half days of events. It cost $122,334.

During the trip, Shulkin also attended the Wimbledon tennis championships in London.

The report states the group's schedule included "significant time for preplanned tourist activities by Secretary Shulkin, his wife, and others on the delegation," and that Shulkin said he'd worked on VA matters when there were no official functions.

The inspector general's report found the alteration of a document for his wife to be approved as an "invitational traveler" was a misrepresentation to ethics officials.

It also concluded that Shulkin's accepting Wimbledon tickets and related hospitality were improper. Additionally, it said a VA employee's time was misused as a personal travel concierge to plan the trip -- and travelers' documentation was inadequate to determine the trip's full costs to VA.

Recommendations by the OIG include reimbursement by all travelers, redressing VA employee misconduct and retraining of VA personnel on ethics and travel policy matters.

Shulkin, 58, took office as the 9th Veterans Affairs secretary exactly one year ago Wednesday. He did not immediately comment on the report.

A statement by VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said the VA is reviewing the report.

"Accountability and transparency are important values at VA under President Trump, and we look forward to reviewing the report and its recommendations in more detail before determining an appropriate response," Cashour said.

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