Embattled VA Secretary Shulkin faces skeptical Congress

In the weeks since a sharply critical inspector general report faulted Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin with ...

Posted: Mar 2, 2018 10:56 AM
Updated: Mar 2, 2018 10:56 AM

In the weeks since a sharply critical inspector general report faulted Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin with misusing taxpayer funds and amid reports of an agency rife with tension and infighting, Shulkin has maintained that he is fully in control, insisting that he has "no tolerance" for those who try to distract from the department's mission.

But on Capitol Hill, lawmakers seem frustrated by a steady stream of events that have put more attention on the agency's internal squabbles than the veterans it seeks to serve.

Two top Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee -- Jon Tester of Montana and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington -- each pointed to "chaos" and "infighting" at the department.

"I'm deeply concerned by reports of chaos at the highest levels of VA, which seems to be a trademark of this Administration," Murray, who was briefed on Thursday by department Inspector General Michael Missal on Thursday about the investigation, said in a statement. "That chaos is a huge disservice to millions of veterans across the country who deserve a department that is fully focused on serving their needs."

Cassie Byerly, a spokeswoman for Tester, said that "veterans deserve better than a VA that's crippled by infighting."

Asked whether Tester still backed Shulkin, Byerly said that America's veterans need leaders at the Veterans Affairs Department and in the White House focused on ending the department's Veterans Choice Program and ensuring veterans have access to quality care.

"That means we need a secretary who works for our veterans, not for the Koch Brothers," she said.

Shulkin has been working to clear his name and restore confidence in his leadership since the inspector general report found that he and senior members of his staff misled agency ethics officials and that Shulkin misused taxpayer funds.

Shulkin has taken issue with the report, calling it "entirely inaccurate," but has said he would follow all inspector general recommendations and has already repaid the US Treasury for his wife's travel. He has said that he regrets that the matter has taken the focus off the department's mission.

He has also said that the Europe trip, which included a veterans mental health conference as well as sightseeing and a Wimbledon match, was essential to his job.

But it is also unclear whether he has full control of his agency as power struggles over competing policy priorities between Shulkin and Trump appointees spill into the open.

Those include the departure of Shulkin's chief of staff, who was named in the IG investigation, and reports that two White House advisers were meeting with key veterans groups to discuss policy issues without the presence of Shulkin's key aides.

The latest signal of turmoil came Wednesday when USA Today and The Washington Post each reported that John Ullyot, a senior aide at the department, tried to get a top House Veterans' Affairs Committee staffer to encourage members to demand the resignation of Shulkin, and his deputy secretary, Thomas Bowman. Ullyot was joined on the call by the department's press secretary, Curt Cashour, the newspapers reported.

Ullyot and Cashour in a joint statement provided to reporters disputed the characterization of the call and said the allegation was "ridiculous."

Amanda Maddox, a spokeswoman for Sen. Johnny Isakson, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told CNN that Isakson still "strongly supports" Shulkin, but did not respond to a request for comment on Shulkin's aides reportedly attempting to oust him. Tiffany Haverly, communications director for House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, said that Roe has said "both publicly and privately, on multiple occasions, that the secretary and deputy secretary have his full support."

So far, just one lawmaker -- Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, a member of the House Veterans Affairs panel -- has called for Shulkin's resignation. On Wednesday, he called on President Donald Trump to remove Shulkin from his job, saying that Shulkin "clearly lacks the moral authority to lead the VA" and the integrity expected of a member of Trump's Cabinet.

Shulkin was at the White House on Thursday -- alongside two other embattled Cabinet heads -- for a White House summit on the opioid epidemic, a chief policy priority of the Trump administration.

During the daily briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that Shulkin was "glad for the job [Shulkin] is doing to reform and modernize the VA," and that the President supported that work. She added that the White House is reviewing Shulkin and his wife's travel expenses, to ensure that Shulkin is "being responsible with taxpayer dollars."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 751242

Reported Deaths: 13795
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1032931788
Lake556911009
Allen41692692
St. Joseph36990565
Hamilton36588417
Elkhart29398461
Tippecanoe22901226
Vanderburgh22556400
Porter19356325
Johnson18471389
Hendricks17682317
Clark13226195
Madison13149344
Vigo12614253
LaPorte12419221
Monroe12207176
Delaware10966198
Howard10321225
Kosciusko9630121
Hancock8576146
Bartholomew8169157
Warrick7860156
Floyd7811180
Grant7242179
Wayne7162201
Boone6966103
Morgan6761141
Dubois6218118
Marshall6209116
Cass6016110
Henry5900110
Dearborn589878
Noble581488
Jackson509076
Shelby501496
Lawrence4742122
Gibson444894
Clinton442355
Harrison441875
DeKalb439885
Montgomery438090
Whitley406543
Huntington402681
Steuben400159
Miami395269
Jasper388054
Knox375991
Putnam372960
Wabash361983
Ripley347170
Adams345555
Jefferson335886
White331953
Daviess3033100
Wells295281
Decatur289992
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273072
Scott270156
Clay267148
Washington246036
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
Spencer234531
Starke228058
Fountain220948
Sullivan214643
Owen211858
Fulton202942
Jay200932
Carroll193620
Orange188255
Perry187237
Rush175926
Vermillion174844
Franklin170335
Tipton166246
Parke149416
Pike138234
Blackford136232
Pulaski120647
Newton113936
Brown104243
Crawford102516
Benton101714
Martin91715
Warren84015
Switzerland8148
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1108902

Reported Deaths: 20166
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1287491467
Cuyahoga1158082211
Hamilton814091250
Montgomery525571043
Summit484351001
Lucas43359820
Butler39018606
Stark33338929
Lorain25675505
Warren24595303
Mahoning22376603
Lake21211388
Clermont20124253
Delaware18856136
Licking16663222
Fairfield16576204
Trumbull16551482
Medina15612271
Greene15284248
Clark14237306
Wood13292200
Portage13251215
Allen11914239
Richland11607211
Miami10849225
Wayne9146223
Columbiana9034230
Muskingum8906135
Pickaway8664122
Tuscarawas8650250
Marion8642138
Erie8056165
Ashtabula7161179
Hancock6999132
Ross6945161
Geauga6838151
Scioto6534106
Belmont6157174
Union584649
Lawrence5732102
Jefferson5679158
Huron5546122
Sandusky5442126
Darke5420129
Seneca5350128
Washington5320109
Athens523960
Auglaize502187
Mercer487385
Shelby476895
Knox4572112
Madison444366
Ashland435797
Putnam4336103
Defiance432399
Fulton432174
Crawford4040110
Brown402461
Logan387677
Preble3856105
Clinton379166
Ottawa373681
Highland359865
Williams348278
Champaign344859
Guernsey324953
Jackson318254
Perry297350
Morrow291840
Fayette285450
Hardin275365
Henry273467
Holmes2702101
Coshocton269060
Van Wert247264
Adams243256
Pike242835
Gallia240750
Wyandot234556
Hocking220563
Carroll197348
Paulding176542
Meigs148440
Monroe136344
Noble136239
Harrison114138
Morgan109624
Vinton85717
Unassigned03
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