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VA official who lied about Shulkin's Europe trip hid healthcare scandal from Congress in 2014

021518 VA liar lied in 2014 too pic
The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General reported Wednesday that last year, VA chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson tried to arrange for the VA secretary's wife to travel with him to Europe on the VA's dime. (screenshot)

A Department of Veterans Affairs official accused of altering an email to get a free trip to Europe for Secretary David Shulkin's wife is the same official who tried to hide the VA waitlist scandal from Congress in 2014.

But as of late Wednesday, the VA declined to comment on whether there was any effort within the department to fire her.

The VA's Office of Inspector General reported Wednesday that last year, VA chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson tried to arrange for Shulkin's wife, Merle Bari, to travel with him to Europe on the VA's dime.

Wright Simpson discovered that to get the taxpayer-funded trip, Shulkin would have to receive some kind of award while overseas, a condition that allows spouses to travel as part of the delegation. When Wright Simpson asked another staffer if Shulkin would be receiving an award, she was told, "Not that I'm aware of."

Wright Simpson was then told in an email there would be a "dinner" at the U.S. ambassador's resident. Wright Simpson changed that email to read "special recognition dinner" and sent it along to another staffer to justify the VA paying for Shulkin's wife's trip, according to the IG.

"Secretary Shulkin did not receive an award or special recognition during this Europe trip," the IG concluded. "Dr. Bari did not qualify for VA travel expense reimbursement under any other allowable criteria."

The IG said it referred the matter to the Department of Justice for "potential criminal prosecution."

Wright Simpson is the same person who in 2014 tried to get VA employees to hide evidence of the VA wait-time scandal from members of Congress.

At the time, CNN reported that two lawmakers complained that their efforts to discover more about that scandal were stymied by Wright Simpson.

When Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., and Mike Doyle, D-Pa., called the VA to ask about a glowing report from the Pittsburgh VA, they were told by an official that he was told not to tell lawmakers about the extent of the waitlist problem.

"Specifically, congressional sources say, Wolf said she was told not to do so by Gary Devansky of the Pittsburgh-based Veterans Integrated Service Network 4, on behalf of Vivieca Wright, the Veterans Health Administration's Director of Network Support," CNN reported.

Her involvement in the scandal that rocked the VA in 2014 didn't hurt Wright Simpson's career prospects. In 2017, the VA named her as the department's interim chief of staff, and she has since taken on that role in an official capacity.

Noted VA whistleblower Scott Davis said Wright Simpson's involvement shows the "corrosive culture" at the VA under the Obama administration has continued under Trump.

He also indicated a good next move for Shulkin would be to fire her.

"All of his recent predecessors have made mistakes based on faulty information," he told the Washington Examiner. "The Veteran community and congress would be more likely to forgive him and move on, if he apologizes for any mistakes he may have made based on fraudulent information, pay restitution and fire those who misled him."

Late Wednesday, the VA had no comment on Wright Simpson's status and said only that the department "looks forward to reviewing the report and its recommendations."

Shulkin himself, however, indicated that the blame may fall on Wright Simpson and other staffers. In a statement, Shulkin said he "relied on his staff" to set up the Europe trip and he wishes he "asked more questions" about it.