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

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Cases: 665285

Reported Deaths: 12697
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion910581653
Lake48637887
Allen36050641
Hamilton32231398
St. Joseph30243514
Elkhart25484420
Vanderburgh21315382
Tippecanoe20185205
Johnson16425361
Porter16053276
Hendricks15899301
Clark12032182
Madison11779321
Vigo11672231
Monroe10394164
Delaware9879179
LaPorte9821198
Howard9095199
Kosciusko8588111
Bartholomew7504147
Warrick7445153
Hancock7439134
Floyd7255172
Wayne6654192
Grant6453157
Boone611991
Morgan6118126
Dubois5933112
Dearborn550669
Cass5477100
Marshall5446105
Henry542695
Noble510978
Jackson465567
Shelby462591
Lawrence4193113
Gibson404985
Harrison402764
Clinton397053
Montgomery390584
DeKalb387178
Knox357885
Miami357863
Whitley350638
Huntington348377
Steuben339855
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Putnam331960
Ripley327862
Adams325149
Jasper318443
White298052
Jefferson295974
Daviess285696
Fayette272656
Decatur271388
Greene262280
Posey261432
Wells258975
Scott251450
LaGrange242170
Clay241444
Randolph225877
Spencer219330
Jennings216344
Washington213027
Sullivan203639
Fountain202542
Starke189251
Owen183453
Fulton179637
Jay178528
Carroll176919
Perry173836
Orange171351
Rush165422
Vermillion161542
Franklin159735
Tipton149241
Parke140116
Pike128433
Blackford120627
Pulaski107544
Newton96732
Brown95240
Benton92413
Crawford92113
Martin80314
Warren75914
Switzerland7558
Union67510
Ohio54111
Unassigned0434

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 976230

Reported Deaths: 17501
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1127971251
Cuyahoga966701881
Hamilton737981067
Montgomery47453923
Summit40562831
Butler35750531
Lucas35685720
Stark29548826
Warren22539275
Lorain22149424
Mahoning19556551
Lake18509332
Clermont18484205
Delaware16576121
Licking15063194
Fairfield14622188
Trumbull14397424
Greene13636221
Medina13484237
Clark12352256
Wood11633170
Portage11104172
Allen10815216
Richland10360188
Miami10055194
Muskingum8224117
Columbiana8165210
Pickaway8085111
Tuscarawas8065232
Marion8015127
Wayne7915199
Erie6948146
Ross6170132
Geauga6105142
Hancock6021121
Ashtabula5998154
Scioto599188
Lawrence527186
Union515641
Darke5046116
Belmont4990137
Huron4848108
Jefferson4831137
Sandusky4791112
Washington473696
Seneca4720111
Athens465849
Mercer459181
Auglaize456682
Shelby442579
Knox4053105
Putnam400393
Madison394755
Fulton382561
Ashland381983
Brown374352
Defiance373588
Crawford359598
Logan356973
Preble353887
Clinton342055
Highland328451
Ottawa325171
Williams303268
Jackson291246
Champaign290149
Guernsey288745
Perry270748
Fayette269843
Morrow261137
Henry247361
Hardin246859
Holmes244097
Coshocton240056
Van Wert230257
Gallia223538
Adams218139
Pike216728
Wyandot212050
Hocking194954
Carroll181743
Paulding160834
Meigs136031
Noble129233
Monroe117137
Morgan101620
Harrison100731
Vinton76613
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