Sunday, February 18, 2018

Whoever Fights Corruption Should See To It He Does Not Himself Become Corrupt

In 2014 the Department of Veterans Affairs was awash in a scandal over massive wait times in its health care system, particularly at one hospital in Phoenix. In the aftermath, Congress and the White House took steps to reform the VA.
The scandal put a national spotlight on some of the financial incentives the VA used to encourage quicker and better care and how those incentives drove some VA employees to cheat the system, so they could continue getting pay bonuses even as they delivered abominable services to the men and women who have served this great nation.
When President Trump took office, he appointed a new Secretary of Veterans Affairs making accountability a major focus of VA reforms.
A scathing report has emerged which found Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin’s chief of staff attempted to cover up travel expenses incurred by Shulkin's wife, Dr. Merle Bari, by doctoring an email with false statements making it possible for Bari to travel at taxpayer expense.
The report comes as Shulkin, the only holdover from the Obama administration in President Trump’s Cabinet, is in the midst of a difficult attempt to overhaul the troubled VA and, in particular, its health care system.
An 11-member Veterans Administration delegation, including Bari and six members of Shulkin's security detail, traveled to Great Britain and Denmark last July, at a total VA cost of $122,334, according to the report. The trip included a tour of Westminster Abbey, attendance at the women's final at Wimbledon and a cruise along the Thames River.
Inspector General Michael J. Missal began his review last October after The Washington Post discovered Shulkin and his wife had spent nearly half their time on personal activities during the European trip. The VA said the two flew commercially and taxpayers covered her airfare as part of "temporary duty" travel expenses.
The audit found the trip violated a cost-saving directive that Shulkin himself had issued to the Department weeks prior to the trip to avoid unnecessary expenses.
Vivieca Wright Simpson, who had served at the Department for 32 years, had been a target of critics within the VA for what they saw as bureaucratic inaction on a host of reforms proposed by President Trump’s administration. She had previously served as Shulkin’s chief of staff at the Veterans Health Administration before he was promoted to the Department’s top post.  Simpson is the same person who in 2014 tried to get VA employees to hide evidence of the VA wait-time scandal from members of Congress.  She has since resigned.
IG Missal’s findings included (1) the Chief of Staff’s alteration of a document and misrepresentations to ethics officials caused Secretary Shulkin’s wife to be approved as an “invitational traveler,” which authorized VA to pay her travel costs (although only airfare was claimed); (2) Secretary Shulkin improperly accepted a gift of Wimbledon tickets and related hospitality; (3) a VA employee’s time was misused as a personal travel concierge to plan tourist activities exceeding that necessary for security arrangements; and (4) travelers’ documentation was inadequate to determine the trip’s full costs to VA. The OIG did not assess the value of the trip to VA or determine whether the Europe travel, as conducted, was “essential,” per VA policy.  The IG has also referred the matter to the Department of Justice for potential criminal prosecution.
Shulkin, in an appearance on Capitol Hill on February 15th, suggested her emails may have been hacked by individuals working against his leadership team.
“We act with the highest ethical character,” Shulkin said. “I relied upon my staff to do this, and in retrospect, I wish that I had asked more questions.”
According to a published report by The Daily Caller, Shulkin implied to Congress she might not have been responsible for that email; it might have been a hacker impersonating her. He insisted the department has “found there are people sending emails from her account that aren’t her.”
In that same Daily Caller report, it was noted, “An hour after he left the newsroom the Department’s website posted a statement saying it had found no evidence of any hack, either in June or on Wednesday. “We have thus far found no credible or conclusive evidence of a compromise to our email system or a user’s account.”
Some observers questioned Shulkin’s claims that someone was impersonating his chief of staff and were suspicious that his allegations coincided with the release of the IG report.
At least one lawmaker, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) an Army and Marine Corps veteran and member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, called for Shulkin’s resignation due to what he says is manipulation of evidence and the implication to legislators that there was credible reason to think the email might not be real.
“What we know now is there’s no evidence of a hack. I think he’s trying to muddy the waters on this. It’s not the issue itself, it’s the cover-up, it speaks to his lack of integrity,” he said.
For the record Shulkin has reimbursed the government the money for his wife’s unauthorized travel and intends to repay The Invictus Games for the Wimbledon tickets.
Also, The Daily Caller learned from a senior department official the Secretary has an upcoming official trip to the Vatican with his wife. The source reiterated that the trip is currently on the books, saying the pair are scheduled to travel to Vatican City from April 20 to 29 to attend the Pontifical Council for Culture.
“I am not going on any trip to the Vatican or any trip abroad. That is not happening” Shulkin responded.
The Vatican is one of the few countries in the world that does not have a military. The Council for Culture includes a show of European art and religious history.

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