Watchdog: Aide altered email so V.A. chief's wife could travel on taxpayers' dime

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WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s chief of staff falsified an email so that the secretary’s wife could accompany him and his staff to Europe last year at taxpayer expense, according to an internal watchdog’s investigation released Wednesday.

According to the report by the V.A.’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), Vivieca Wright Simpson, the chief of staff, altered a subordinate’s email to misrepresent the purpose of the 11-day trip so that Shulkin’s wife, Merle Bari, could be reimbursed by the government.

The report also said Shulkin improperly accepted tickets to Wimbledon, and questioned his decision to direct agency staff members on official time to arrange his personal sightseeing activities during the July trip to England and Denmark.

The OIG, which is responsible for internal oversight of the agency, said it launched the investigation after receiving an anonymous tip alleging that the trip was a misuse of V.A. funds. Its findings make Shulkin the latest top Trump administration official to come under fire for costly, taxpayer-funded travel.

According to the report, Simpson told staff to contact V.A. ethics officials in charge of approving travel to designate the secretary’s wife as an “invitational traveler,” which would have allowed her to be reimbursed by the V.A. for her $4,000 airfare.

A calendar produced by the VA Inspector General showing a summary of the planned official business and leisure time for the VA secretary’s European trip.