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House Republican Calls For VA Secretary Shulkin's Resignation Amid Travel Controversy
A Republican congressman called for Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s immediate resignation Wednesday following findings from a government watchdog of “serious derelictions by VA personnel” regarding Shulkin’s 10-day trip to Europe last summer.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., an Army and Marine Corps veteran and member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the findings highlighted the type of “corruption and abuses” that Congress has been attempting to expel from the agency.
The VA inspector general found Shulkin improperly accepted tickets to a Wimbledon tennis match in July for himself and his wife, Merle Bari, and spent much of a 10-day official trip sightseeing – excursions planned by a VA employee working on official time. The VA’s third-in-charge, Chief of Staff Vivieca Wright Simpson, was found to have doctored an email with false statements that led to Bari having her travel expenses paid with taxpayer dollars.
“The abuses detailed in the VA’s Inspector General Report violate the trust and integrity that our veterans and taxpayers demand and deserve,” Coffman said in a written statement. “After closely reviewing the IG report, and the findings that VA Secretary Shulkin and his staff misled ethics officials and lied to investigators, I have concluded that it is time for him to step down.”
Coffman went on to say Shulkin lacks the “moral authority” to root out a culture of corruption at the VA, which was one of President Donald Trump’s promises during his campaign.
“It is time to clean house at the VA and it starts with the resignation of Secretary Shulkin,” Coffman said.
Shulkin issued a statement Wednesday that was posted to the VA website but taken down after about an hour. In it, Shulkin said, “I have done nothing wrong.”
“The report is neither accurate nor objective,” he said. “It is a direct assault on my spouse, my character and my unblemished record of service to veterans.”
In addition to Coffman, other lawmakers responded to the news Wednesday.
Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate and House VA committees issued a joint statement, saying they were “disappointed by the details described in the IG report.” Rather than asking for his resignation, though, they asked Shulkin to address the allegations.
“We need to continue the progress we have made and not allow distractions to get in the way of helping our veterans. We’re counting on Dr. Shulkin to actively address all of the allegations outlined in this report. Our veterans deserve no less,” read the statement issued by Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.; Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.; Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Shulkin is expected to get that chance Thursday morning, during a previously scheduled hearing of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Shulkin was supposed to testify at 8 a.m. about the VA’s fiscal 2019 budget request.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., also wants Shulkin to explain his side of events to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He blamed Trump for having “lowered the bar on conflicts of interest.”
“[U]nethical conduct is taken as the new normal in this administration,” Blumenthal said in a written statement. “The fish rots from the head. The president’s clear, repeated conflicts of interest create a corrosive culture of unethical permissiveness that infects his entire administration.”
Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said the report shows, at best, “extreme carelessness.” At worst, she said, it’s evidence of a willful abuse of taxpayer dollars.
The fallout from the inspector general report was unclear Wednesday. Investigators informed the Department of Justice about Simpson, but the DOJ decided to not pursue criminal prosecution at this time, according to the report. Investigators found no evidence Shulkin knew of Simpson’s actions.
Until recently, Shulkin — who was confirmed with unanimous support from the Senate — has mostly stayed clear of the discord that’s plagued some of Trump’s other Cabinet members. But over the last few months, he’s faced an escalating level of controversy.
During a public hearing in December, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., accused Shulkin of double-talk and blamed him for a rift between committee members that led to delays in Congress tackling reform to the VA Choice program, which allows veterans to seek private-sector medical care. Last week, The Washington Post reported that some in the White House wanted to remove Shulkin’s new deputy, Tom Bowman, as a “warning shot” to Shulkin for deviating from the administration’s plans on Choice reform.
©2018 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.
On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.
Fatal training accidents are on the rise. Now the families of the fallen are pushing lawmakers to do something about it
CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.
Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.
Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.
Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.
"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."
While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.
"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."
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The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.
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Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.
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