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Lawmakers Slam VA Chief After Lavish European Trip Expenses
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin took fire from lawmakers today over a lavish 10-day trip to Europe last year that cost taxpayers at least $122,000, detailed in a 97-page report by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General, published Feb. 14.
The report also included details of altered emails to justify Shulkin’s wife’s attendance, in order to have her airfare billed to the VA; the use of a program manager employee as a travel “concierge”; poor bookkeeping that made tracking expenses difficult; allegations over inappropriately accepted Wimbledon tennis match tickets; and shifting public accounts of the trip in the face of mounting media pressure.
At the previously scheduled hearing on the VA’s budget for fiscal year 2019, Rep. Tim Walz, the ranking Democrat for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, remarked to Shulkin that “the trust you have on this committee is strong, but we do need to address these allegations.” Walz called for a Department of Justice investigation into the report’s claims.
Though the focus of the hearing was on the VA’s proposed budget for next year — and lawmakers were quick to remark on the need to stay on topic — the OIG report remained on the periphery.
“Here’s one that’s a touchy one: I noticed that the budget for the IG would be scaled back,” Walz said in his opening statements, adding that this would leave the VA’s watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General “far short of their desired staffing level when the OIG meets increased demand for their oversight and services.”
That decrease in funds, Walz argued, combined with a proposed pay freeze for federal employees, “will prevent the OIG from hiring investigators. The optics of cutting the OIG, today, are really really bad.”
Mike Coffman, a Colorado Republican who yesterday called for Shulkin’s resignation after reading the report, asked whether the 10-day trip was essential travel under the VA’s guidelines.
“I believe that this was essential travel,” Shulkin responded:
This was the 5-Eyes conference. Our allies who fight alongside us in every war: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. We have had this conference for 43 straight years. It has been attended by every VA secretary…but I do recognize the optics of this are not good.
“It’s not the optics that are not good,” Coffman quickly fired back. “It’s the facts that are not good.”
Following the report’s release yesterday morning, Shulkin has said that he would follow the inspector general’s recommendations — which included asking the department’s counsel to review whether administrative punishment is appropriate, and suggested that Shulkin reimburse the VA for the cost of his wife’s travel, and the improperly accepted favors.
“I’ve already written a check to the Treasury,” Shulkin told lawmakers.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the duration of Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin's July 2017 trip to Europe. (2/19/2018; 11:43 am)
Raccoon infestations and extreme rust didn’t stop an anonymous buyer from nabbing this Soviet-era submarine
A former Soviet submarine that became a tourist attraction docked adjacent to the Queen Mary in Long Beach is expected to be sold soon to an anonymous buyer, with plans to remove the rusting sub by mid-May.
The 48-year-old Russian Foxtrot-class submarine, known as the Scorpion, had hosted paying visitors for 17 years before it fell into such disrepair that it became infested with raccoons and was closed to the public in 2015.
Former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, whom President Donald Trump recently pardoned of his 2013 murder conviction, claims he was nothing more than a pawn whom generals sacrificed for political expediency.
The infantry officer had been sentenced to 19 years in prison for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men in 2012. Two of the men were killed.
During a Monday interview on Fox & Friends, Lorance accused his superiors of betraying him.
"A service member who knows that their commanders love them will go to the gates of hell for their country and knock them down," Lorance said. "I think that's extremely important. Anybody who is not part of the senior Pentagon brass will tell you the same thing."
"I think folks that start putting stars on their collar — anybody that has got to be confirmed by the Senate for a promotion — they are no longer a soldier, they are a politician," he continued. "And so I think they lose some of their values — and they certainly lose a lot of their respect from their subordinates — when they do what they did to me, which was throw me under the bus."
Fifteen years after the U.S. military toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Army's massive two-volume study of the Iraq War closed with a sobering assessment of the campaign's outcome: With nearly 3,500 U.S. service members killed in action and trillions of dollars spent, "an emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor.
Thanks to roughly 700 pages of newly-publicized secret Iranian intelligence cables, we now have a good idea as to why.
A U.S. Air Force combat controller will receive the nation's third highest award for valor this week for playing an essential role in two intense firefight missions against the Taliban in Afghanistan last year.
Tech. Sgt. Cody Smith, an airman with the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, 24th Special Operations Wing at Air Force Special Operations Command, will receive the Silver Star at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico on Nov. 22, the service announced Monday.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane intercepted a suspected semi-submersible smuggling vessel in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean and seized approximately 5,000 pounds of cocaine October 23.