Despite a scathing inspector general’s report that documents Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s misuse of time, money and personnel during an April 2017 business trip to London, several veterans’ service organizations are urging that President Trump retain him.
Even though Shulkin’s mistakes are serious, his firing would only serve to derail efforts to improve delivery of services to veterans and squelch the movement to privatize the veterans’ benefits system, Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS, said in a statement.
“Now … after over a full year of progress and tremendous strides in accountability, opening access to care, improving access to benefits, tackling mental health, and strengthening relations with stakeholders, is the president ready to turn the keys to the VA over to ideologues who have designs on having VA go the way of railroads, airports, energy companies, postal services, and other businesses that have been privatized – and have also been proven profitable for a few,” Chenelly wrote.
The American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America also expressed similar support for Shulkin.
According to the IG report:
* Shulkin’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, lied to a VA ethics official about the nature of a colleague who traveled with Shulkin to London. (Wright Simpson resigned in the aftermath, and has been replaced by Peter O’Rourke of VA’s accountability and whistleblower office.)
* Shulkin improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
* He also retained the services of a subordinate for nine days at government expense, even though the official business only entailed three and a half days of meetings. The subordinate accompanied him on tours of London’s historic sites, and a side trip to Sweden.
* The trip cost the government “at least $122,334,” but some of the costs could not be accounted for because no one involved with planning the trip completed the required cost-comparison worksheet. Discrepancies in air fares, lodging costs, and security-personnel expenses also emerged.
* VA responded to media inquiries about the trip by providing “misleading statements” as responses.
Michal J. Missal, VA’s inspector general, called for Shulkin to reimburse the government for the personal expenses, disciplinary action against those involved, and improved training in what is and is not allowed when traveling on official business.
“Shulkin is learning a tough lesson in politics: If you want to make enemies, try to change something,” Chenelly said.
“But he will not be the only one who pays if the president allows the VA to be treated like a political football that keeps getting punted each time a new VA secretary is deposed,” Chenelly said. “Mr. President, please allow Shulkin the space necessary to do his job and continue your focus on fixing the VA.”