Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday he regrets decisions he and others made that led to the department's inspector general finding Shulkin and his wife improperly accepted tickets to Wimbledon and used taxpayer money to cover his wife’s airfare for the European trip in July.
“We act with the highest ethical character. I relied upon my staff to do this, and in retrospect, I wish that I had asked more questions,” Shulkin told USA Today, reversing his initial denial and criticism of the VA's internal watchdog.
“I have respect for the job the IG needs to do,” Shulkin continued. “I have followed and complied with the recommendations.”
According to the VA inspector general report released earlier Wednesday, the 11-day trip cost taxpayers more than $122,000 and was subsequently misrepresented to ethics lawyers after Shulkin returned to the U.S.
In addition, the inspector general determined that Shulkin’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, altered an email to ensure the government would pay for Shulkin’s wife airfare of $4,312 by making it appear as if Shulkin was receiving recognition or an award during the visit.
They also said Shulkin claimed he received Wimbledon tickets from a friend, Invictus Games adviser Victoria Gosling, despite only meeting her three times.
The revelations have prompted calls for Shulkin’s resignation, including from Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a senior Republican on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Shulkin on Wednesday mailed a check for $4,312 to reimburse the government for his wife's travel, adding he was seeking ways to compensate Gosling for the tickets.
The trip was supposed to be for meetings in Denmark, as well as a summit on veteran's issues in London, but was reportedly mostly spent sightseeing.
Shulkin is the only Trump Cabinet official to have previously served the Obama administration as undersecretary of veterans affairs for health.