The Department of Veterans Affairs watchdog released a report Wednesday that said the head of the agency, Secretary David Shulkin, improperly accepted tickets to Wimbledon and used taxpayer funds to cover his wife’s airfare during a European trip last July.
According to the VA inspector general report, the 11-day trip cost taxpayers more than $122,000 and was subsequently misrepresented to ethics lawyers after Shulkin returned to the U.S.
Shulkin’s chief of staff, Viveca Wright Simpson, doctored an official email in order to secure taxpayer funding for the travel costs associated with his wife’s flight for the trip, which ended up totaling more than $4,000, the inspector general concluded.
Shulkin himself misrepresented how he obtained tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament in his conversations with ethics officials. Shulkin claimed he had received them as a gift from a close personal friend, when in fact, the woman who provided the tickets had only met the VA secretary three times.
“After a thorough investigation, OIG’s findings included the Chief of Staff’s alteration of a document and misrepresentations to ethics officials caused Secretary Shulkin’s wife to be approved as an ‘invitational traveler,’ which authorized VA to pay her travel costs [and] Secretary Shulkin improperly accepted a gift of Wimbledon tickets and related hospitality,” the report read.
The inspector general said the trip led to a “misuse of VA resources” and employees' time since at least one staffer served “as a personal travel concierge to plan tourist activities” for Shulkin and his wife. The secretary, who was slated to attend a conference on veterans’ affairs in London and meet with Danish and British officials, was accompanied on the trip by three other top-level agency staffers and a six-member security detail.
Shulkin first came under scrutiny last September after the Washington Post reported that the secretary spent most of his European trip visiting popular tourist sights and shopping with his wife.
“This was time that should have been spent conducting official VA business and not providing personal concierge travel services to Secretary Shulkin and his wife,” VA Inspector General Michael Missal wrote in his report.
Missal urged Shulkin to reimburse the agency for his wife’s airfare and his friend for the Wimbledon tickets, and ensure his chief of staff is punished for altering a government document.
Shulkin, meanwhile, has denied any wrongdoing and blasted the IG’s office in a letter earlier this week.
“It is outrageous that you would portray my wife and me as attempting to take advantage of the government,” he wrote, adding that he still intended to follow through on the inspector general’s recommendations.