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 9:56 AM
Updated: Mar 2, 2018 9:56 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."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36680

Reported Deaths: 1250
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds299254
DeSoto195920
Madison148439
Jones122449
Harrison117716
Rankin112619
Neshoba104677
Forrest103843
Lauderdale96681
Scott82415
Jackson79819
Washington73713
Copiah67016
Leake63420
Lee62822
Oktibbeha61928
Grenada6049
Warren60021
Holmes59541
Lamar5837
Wayne56519
Yazoo5607
Lowndes54817
Leflore53456
Lincoln53335
Lafayette5064
Pike50520
Sunflower5048
Monroe46135
Panola4546
Covington4465
Simpson4433
Bolivar41218
Tate39213
Attala38624
Newton37610
Adams35820
Pontotoc3556
Marion34512
Claiborne30811
Pearl River30332
Winston30111
Chickasaw30019
Marshall2923
Jasper2816
Noxubee2799
Walthall2708
Clay26111
Union25412
Smith25212
Coahoma2306
Clarke22325
Lawrence2132
Yalobusha2089
Tallahatchie1954
Kemper18414
Carroll18211
Montgomery1793
Calhoun1705
Humphreys16910
Hancock14813
Itawamba1478
Tippah14611
Webster13411
Jefferson1283
Prentiss1274
Jefferson Davis1254
Tunica1253
George1233
Greene11610
Amite1123
Alcorn1072
Tishomingo1061
Quitman1011
Wilkinson989
Perry914
Stone772
Choctaw764
Franklin542
Sharkey480
Benton470
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 54768

Reported Deaths: 1096
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6746170
Mobile4904140
Montgomery4547112
Tuscaloosa269053
Madison22689
Marshall198011
Shelby169125
Lee159637
Morgan13385
Baldwin127711
Walker107532
Elmore106721
Etowah101114
Dallas10029
DeKalb9677
Franklin93816
Autauga69815
Russell6860
Unassigned67928
Chambers67730
Butler65229
Limestone6393
Tallapoosa63069
Cullman6156
Houston6077
Lauderdale5776
St. Clair5443
Calhoun5155
Colbert5096
Escambia4888
Lowndes48422
Pike4795
Jackson4352
Coffee4284
Covington41612
Talladega4017
Barbour3992
Dale3951
Bullock37810
Hale35423
Marengo35411
Chilton3312
Blount3201
Clarke3176
Wilcox3038
Winston2995
Sumter29213
Marion29014
Pickens2746
Randolph2639
Monroe2603
Perry2502
Conecuh2318
Bibb2241
Macon2199
Choctaw21712
Greene1989
Henry1553
Washington1488
Lawrence1360
Crenshaw1323
Cherokee1247
Geneva980
Lamar891
Clay852
Fayette851
Coosa661
Cleburne451
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 84°
Columbus
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 76°
Oxford
Clear
75° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 75°
Starkville
Clear
72° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 72°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather