United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin met with U.S. House members Thursday following a scathing report that showed Shulkin and his staff misled officials about a European trip last summer.
Here are seven things to know about David Shulkin:
He was born in Illinois.
Shulkin, 58, was born on July 22, 1959, in Highland Park, Illinois. He was born at the Fort Sheridan U.S. Army base, where his father served as an Army psychiatrist.
He was confirmed by the Senate in February 2017.
Shulkin was unanimously confirmed to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs last year after serving as an undersecretary at the agency. The VA currently operates its own health system with 1,200 hospitals and clinics across the country.
He’s the first VA secretary without military experience, and President Donald Trump’s first Cabinet member appointed to a position in the Obama administration.
According to USA Today, Trump often calls Shulkin the “100-to-nothing man” because of the unanimous vote.
He holds a medical degree.
Shulkin received his medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania, completed his internship with the Yale University School of Medicine and his residency and fellowship in general medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Presbyterian Medical Center.
Before the VA, Shulkin held physician leadership roles with multiple hospitals and health care systems.
What has he done during his tenure?
In an effort to increase transparency, Shulkin directed staffers to include wait times for VA care and quality comparisons to the private sector on a new website.
He also oversaw the creation of a 24-hour White House hotline for veteran complaints and an accountability and whistleblower protection office.
Shulkin has a goal during his VA stint to provide those with a less than honorable military discharge with free mental health care.
According to USA Today, Shulkin also ordered “the rewriting of decades old policies on hiring and reporting poor medical care providers to authorities.”
What is the Europe trip controversy?
The Washington Post reported in September 2017 that Shulkin spent much of an international trip paid for by taxpayers galavanting around the continent with his wife, Merle Bari.
“Nearly three days into a trip to Europe this past July, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin had attended a Wimbledon championship tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey and taken a cruise on the Thames,” the Post reported.
This was days after Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned amid criticism of his use of charter flights paid for by taxpayers. The adventure also reportedly occured two weeks after Shulkin signed a memo instructing VA staffers to determine whether “employee travel in their organization is essential.”
In November, Shulkin disputed the reports but in February, Michael J. Missal, a VA inspector general of veterans affairs, found Shulkin and his staff lied to the agency’s ethics officials and the public about the European trip.
Missal’s report showed the overall expense for the trip was at least $122,334 and also revealed that Shulkin inappropriately directed an aide to be his personal concierge on the trip.
According to the New York Times, Shulkin on Thursday faced questions from House lawmakers and characterized the report as biased and inaccurate. But he said he would reimburse the government for his wife’s airfare and pay for the Wimbledon tickets, which he inappropriately accepted as a gift.
He acknowledged to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee that “the optics of this are not good.”
Shulkin’s chief of staff said she’s retiring.
On Friday, Shulkin’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, told colleagues she is retiring after 32 years at the agency.
Simpson was accused of doctoring an email to an ethics lawyer to show Shulkin was getting special recognition for an award during the European trip, criteria used to clear his wife’s flights using taxpayer money.
Shulkin said he intends to continue in his post.
“I am committed to continuing the work that I came here to do, which is to support the president’s agenda to reform the VA and fix the VA the way that veterans deserve, the care and services they’ve earned,” he told USA Today. “And I am going to remain focused on that task and I am not going to get distracted from what we have to do.”
Previously, Jake Leinenkugel, White House senior adviser on veterans affairs, suggested replacing Shulkin with former undersecretary Michael J. Kussman, a controversial pick.
Kussman has been associated with the group Concerned Veterans of America, which is funded largely by billionaire conservatives Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch and advocates for moving spending on veterans’ health care to the private sector, which veterans’ groups are overwhelmingly opposed to, the New York Times reported.