Watchdog’s report faults VA chief over Europe trip expenses

WASHINGTON (AP) — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tennis tickets and his staff lied that he was getting an award in order to justify his wife accompanying him at taxpayer expense on an 11-day European trip that mixed business and sightseeing, according to a blistering government investigation released Wednesday.

The 87-page report by the VA’s internal watchdog said Shulkin should reimburse the government more than $4,000 for his wife’s airfare and accused his top aide of doctoring emails to falsely represent that Shulkin as being honored in Denmark, inventing a rationale for his wife’s free travel.

“The investigation revealed serious derelictions” by Shulkin and his staff, said the report, which cited “poor judgment and/or misconduct.”

The findings are the latest in a series of controversies involving expensive or wasteful plane travel by top Trump administration officials. President Donald Trump’s health secretary, Tom Price, resigned in September after questions arose about his use of private jets for multiple government trips.

Top lawmakers on the congressional oversight committees urged Shulkin, a former VA undersecretary of health who served in the Obama administration, to fully address the findings. They stressed in a joint statement that “whether intentional or not, misusing taxpayer dollars is unacceptable.”

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called on Shulkin to resign and said “it is time to clean house at the VA.”

In a response attached to the report, Shulkin said he did nothing improper and he attacked the investigation as containing the “thread of bias.”

“A report of this nature is a direct assault on my spouse, my character, and my unblemished record of service to the Veterans Affairs Administration,” he wrote.

Shulkin said he will consult with the agency’s general counsel and reimburse the costs for his wife’s airfare and the Wimbledon tickets if advised to do so.