House Veterans Affairs Committee members largely gave VA Secretary David Shulkin a pass over a scathing inspector general’s report on his visit to Europe last summer after Shulkin promised to repay the VA for his wife’s airfare and other trip expenses.
At a hearing on the administration’s $198 billion VA budget proposal, members on both sides tut-tutted over the $122,000 cost of the trip but treated it as a distraction that they urged Shulkin to clear away so he could deal with substantial problems like paying for veterans care by community providers, EHR modernization, unused VA assets and streamlining benefit appeals.
"I believe your intentions to serve and care for our nation’s veterans are clear," Chairman Phil Roe said in an opening statement. "I encourage you to take every step to address the findings of this report, and to make any changes necessary."
"Trust on this committee is strong," ranking member Tim Walz. He said he was prepared to ask the Department of Justice to examine allegations Shulkin raised in a POLITICO interview that a hacker might have sent an email from his chief of staff that altered information about the purpose of his visit.
The email falsely suggested Shulkin was receiving an award in Denmark, which, under arcane ethics regulations, meant the VA could pay for Shulkin’s wife’s trip expenses.
Shulkin said he had already repaid the Treasury for his wife’s $4,300 airfare and for the price of two Wimbledon tickets that a friend provided Shulkin and his wife before an annual military summit in London.
"I do recognize the optics of this are not good," he said. "I accept responsibility."
Mike Coffman, the only committee member who has called for Shulkin’s resignation, responded: "It’s not the optics that are not good. It’s the facts that are not good."