VA Secretary David Shulkin told lawmakers Thursday that he would repay more than $4,000 that was spent on his wife’s airfare for an 11-day trip to Europe this past summer.
A report made public Wednesday by the VA’s internal watchdog recommend that Shulkin reimburse $4,312 that was spent by the department on a plane ticket for Shulkin’s wife, Merle Bari. The report also found that Shulkin had improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
“I do recognize the optics of this are not good,” Shulkin told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, stressing that he wants to “make things right.”
The report also found that Shulkin’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, altered emails to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award to justify his wife’s traveling on the public’s dime.
In all, an 11-member VA delegation, including Bari and six members of Shulkin’s security detail, traveled to England and Denmark last July, at a total cost to the agency of at least $122,334.
One lawmaker, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has called on Shulkin to resign. Expressing impatience Thursday with some of Shulkin’s explanations, Coffman said: “It’s not the optics that are not good. It’s the facts that are not good.”
Four Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee urged the committee to hold a hearing with Shulkin and Wright Simpson as part of the committee’s investigation into alleged travel abuses by the Trump administration.
Other Cabinet members, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and EPA chief Scott Pruitt, have acknowledged the use of government or private flights costing tens of thousands of dollars. Zinke and Pruitt are being investigated by their respective department’s inspector general for their trips.
In September, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned amid questions about his use of private jets for government trips.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.