Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin doesn’t think he misused taxpayer dollars when he visited Europe and attended the Wimbledon women’s final with his wife, but he has promised to pay the Treasury back anyway.
After vehemently denying he had improperly used taxpayer dollars for the trip, Shulkin told the Military Times Wednesday he would pay back at least a portion of the contested funds to the Treasury. The sudden change of heart came shortly after a scathing inspector general report revealed his 2017 trip to Europe, which uncovered that the VA Secretary’s chief of staff doctored emails so that Shulkin’s wife could take part in the trip on the government's dime.
“I’ve already written a check to the Treasury,” he told the Military Times on Wednesday. “We’re going to go ahead with everything they recommended.”
Shulkin said he would comply with all of the inspector general’s recommendations, but continues to disagree that he intentionally misused government funds.
“In retrospect, I wish I had asked additional questions of my staff,” Shulkin added. “There was no intention of misusing government money. I relied upon my staff to make certain decisions.”
Wednesday’s walk back signalled a softer tune from the embattled official, who previously denied the IG’s report, calling it "a direct assault on my spouse, my character and my unblemished record of service."
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, Shulkin said his team hadn’t been given enough time to respond to the inspector general and that “full facts of the case” would address the findings.
“It’s important that people take a look at the full facts of the case to make sure they’re making their own objective assessment,” he said. “If they consider both what the IG has said, as well as the information I’ve provided, I think the facts speak for themselves.”
The trip cost taxpayers $122,334 at the very least, according to the report, and included flights for Shulkin's wife, and trips to Buckingham palace, the Churchill War Rooms, and a Thames River cruise, among other tourist attractions.
The irony, as the IG’s report points out, is that just weeks before his trip, Shulkin issued a VA-wide memo urging managers to ensure employee travel was “essential,” in order to “generate savings.”
Cover image: Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin looks up while speaking at a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing on veteran caregiver support, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)