Will the VA scandal never end?
While the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary lives high on the hog and his lying chief of staff resigns in disgrace while escaping any punishment, legions of vets every day in this country are denied the medical care they earned.
President Trump was supposed to drain the swamp. But at the historically fraud-ridden and profligate VA, the alligators continue feasting on the public dime.
Trump's VA secretary, David Shulkin, is an Obama holdover. His main agenda is to block any real reforms for veterans, which includes expanding their ability to obtain care from private doctors and hospitals. His daughter, Jennifer, is a Harvard law student and loudmouth Huffington Post contributor who used her Twitter account recently to defend her dad against "right-winged, pro-privatization Trump appointees."
Two weeks ago, Shulkin launched a purge of what he calls "subversive" employees that he accuses of trying to undermine him. It's the same tactic Obama VA officials used to silence whistleblowers who exposed secret waiting lists to nowhere that cost untold thousands of patients across at least seven states their lives.
This latest witch hunt for dissenters comes in the wake of a scathing inspector general's report last month on Shulkin's 10-day junket to Europe last summer. The VA secretary spent a grand total of three and a half days on supposed business meetings in Copenhagen and London. For the rest of the time, Shulkin directed a VA underling to act as his personal travel agent — on your dime — to plan sightseeing for him and his wife, including:
—Touring Amalienborg Palace for the changing of the guard and visiting Christiansborg Palace, Rosenborg Castle and Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark.
—Boating and dining in Copenhagen and dining in Malmo, Sweden.
—Trekking to the Churchill War Rooms, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey, Thames River, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Shakespeare's Globe, the London Eye and Windsor Castle.
The inspector general discovered that Shulkin also improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets from a British socialite. To evade ethics guidelines, Shulkin claimed the socialite was his wife's "friend," but the socialite couldn't even remember Shulkin's wife's name when questioned by investigators.
Nice family vacay if you can get it — and you can get it subsidized, if your underlings lie.
Shulkin's chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, admitted doctoring an email in order to get Shulkin's wife's airfare paid for by the public. Wright Simpson misled an ethics officer into believing that Shulkin was receiving an award at a dinner and that his wife therefore qualified as an "invitational traveler." It was a big fat fabrication. Shulkin received no award. His wife was not eligible for the travel reimbursements for her whopping $4,000 plane tickets.
Nevertheless, Wright Simpson — a career bureaucrat who started at the VA in 1998 and ascended during the Obama administration — was allowed to retire with full benefits. No punishment.
Shulkin remains unrepentant and baselessly blamed a computer "hack" for his top aide's email shenanigans. The IG found no evidence of his backside-covering claim. The ghost of Anthony Weiner lives.
And just wait, another shoe of corruption is about to drop. According to The Daily Beast, another IG report involving Shulkin's "use of his security detail to run personal errands" may be released in the next week. Shulkin's response? Underlings are reporting that he is in the throes of "paranoia," ordering an "armed guard" to stand watch outside his office and banning employees he suspects of "disloyalty."
The VA's culture of fear and reprisals against whistleblowers is endemic. Accountability is rarer than a Siamese unicorn. Fiscally responsible vets seeking coverage for emergency room bills are punished for not seeing VA doctors enough. The administrators responsible for blowing a billion-dollar hole in the budget of the Aurora, Colorado, VA boondoggle have escaped any consequences.
The last thing this corrupted bureaucracy needs is a Captain Queeg-meets-Leona Helmsley at the helm.
As Colorado GOP Rep. Mike Coffman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee wrote in a letter to the White House last week: "Mr. President, you promised the American people that you would end the culture of corruption and bureaucratic incompetence that for far too long has defined the leadership of the VA. Unfortunately, Secretary Shulkin, by his conduct, lacks the moral authority to achieve your goals of a transparent, accountable VA."
President Trump, your corrupt VA secretary is hostile to you, to the truth and to the taxpayers. He needs to hear those famous words from you: