VA chief: 'Optics' not good for IG report on Europe trip

By Susan McFarland

Feb. 15 (UPI) -- One day after a Veterans Affairs investigator said an administrative staff member altered an email to cover European travel expenses for Secretary David Shulkin last year, the department chief was asked about it on Capitol Hill Thursday.

During a VA budget meeting, Shulkin said "the optics of this are not good," while answering a question from Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., about the validity of taking the trip last summer.


"It's not the optics that are not good, it's the facts that are not good," Coffman answered.

The Office of Inspector General Michael J. Missal began investigating the matter after receiving an anonymous tip about the trip. Wednesday, Missal released a report that said Shulkin chief of staff Viveca Wright Simpson altered an email to use more than $4,000 in taxpayer funds to cover travel for the chief and his wife last June.

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Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said the IG report is disappointing and asked committee members to refrain from questioning about the issue and stick with the topic at hand.

Shulkin was on Capitol Hill Thursday to discuss President Donald Trump's proposed budget.


Roe said he believes Shulkin's intentions to serve and care for the nation's veterans are clear and said Shulkin has the "mission at heart."

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"With that said, as public officials we are all expected to be held to a higher standard and be good stewards of tax dollars," Roe said. "I encourage you to take every step to address the findings in this report and make any changes necessary. We've got a lot of work to do on behalf of our nation veterans and we cannot allow distractions like these to keep us from doing our work."

Shulkin said he regrets "decisions that have been made that have taken the focus off of that important work," and said he will do what's necessary to put the focus on veterans.

Shulkin also said he will pay the department back for the travel costs incurred last year.

"I've made the decision to reimburse the treasury, to follow the IG recommendations and I'm committed to doing what we have to do to focus on veterans and make this better," Shulkin said.

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