Roe defends Veterans Affairs chief

Hank Hayes • Feb 16, 2018 at 11:37 AM

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe doesn’t think Veterans Administration Secretary David Shulkin should resign or be fired amid a report suggesting he misused VA funds by taking an official July 2017 trip to Europe.

“Absolutely not,” Roe, a Johnson City Republican who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said during a Thursday conference call with reporters. “I don’t want to talk about deep states and all that. The secretary, just like I do when I go overseas … you have people in your staff who ask if this is appropriate. He did … that conference he went to ... the VA secretary has gone to it for 43 straight years. … He wrote a check, as I would do, if my wife went along with me on these trips. … We’re going to dig further. … Secretary Shulkin is doing one of the best jobs. We’ve passed 35 major pieces of legislation out of our committee, 12 have been signed into law by the president. I think we’ve got the right person at the helm of the VA right now.”

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) received an anonymous complaint alleging that Shulkin and other senior leaders misused VA funds by taking that trip for more personal than official activities. Shulkin traveled with a group that included senior VA leaders, his wife, and a six-member security detail. The 11-day trip included two extensive travel days and three-and-a-half days of official events — with a cost to the VA of at least $122,334. The VA delegation had a day-and-a-half of meetings with Danish veterans’ health care officials and experts in Copenhagen and attended the Ministerial Summit on Veterans’ Affairs in London. Shulkin stated he also worked on VA matters when there were no official functions.

The group’s schedule, however, included significant time for preplanned tourist activities by Shulkin, his wife and others on the delegation, according to the report.

OIG’s findings included the chief of staff’s alteration of a document and misrepresentations to ethics officials caused Shulkin’s wife to be approved as an “invitational traveler,” which authorized VA to pay her travel costs (although only airfare was claimed); and Shulkin improperly accepted a gift of Wimbledon tickets and related hospitality.

Roe also addressed these questions:

What’s happening with immigration reform?

“We have a bill I am a co-sponsor of … there will be changes in it. … If we can get it to a conference committee, we will get this bill done. … It ends the Diversity Program. It eliminates the Visa Lottery. … The last two terrorist attacks that have occurred with a chain migration person and a Visa Lottery person. … You increase immigration for skilled workers and agricultural workers. You do border security that’s not just a wall but a barrier whether it’s technology, or a physical barrier or a surveillance barrier. … You secure the border and ports of entry. … You have more border patrol agents. … (The bill) provides for a legal status for our DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) who came here before the age of 16 after 2007.”

Should Congress begin a dialogue on guns in light of the mass shooting at the Florida school on Wednesday?

“I can’t make my brain think about how there could be this much evil in a person who would go to a school where you knew your classmates. … I don’t know what the answer is. … I know we’ve got money in the budget set aside on opioids and mental health. … The federal government doesn’t have an answer, I can tell you that.”

Should the Democratic memo on the Russia investigation be released?

“I did read all 10 pages. … This can’t be released like it is written. … There’s no way without redaction that this should be released, but absolutely, it ought to be released. … At the very top (of the FBI), I’ve got big time concerns. Rank-and-file members … we’ve got good U.S. attorneys.”

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