VA secretary spent half of official London trip sightseeing

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin flew a commercial airline to London this past July to attend a veterans conference, but half his time there was spent on sightseeing and a stop at Wimbledon tennis tournament.

Shulkin’s wife’s commercial travel costs were also paid for by the federal government because she was under “approved invitational orders”

As questions have swirled about other Trump cabinet officials’ use of government aircraft, the Department of Veterans Affairs has decided that in the interest of transparency it will post all of Shulkin’s travel details on a VA website.

Those documents show Shulkin has flown six times on U.S. military aircraft. Four of the flights were on Air Force One as he accompanied President Trump, one was on Air Force Two accompanying Vice President Pence and a flight earlier this week accompanying the first lady to this week’s Invictus Games in Toronto. Shulkin has never flown a private plane to travel for his official duties, according to a Veterans Affairs spokesman.

The Department also posted the itineraries of Shulkin’s trip in mid-July to Denmark and the United Kingdom and earlier this week to Canada with first lady Melania Trump.

Shulkin and his delegation of six, including his wife Dr. Merle Bari, traveled commercial airlines to Copenhagen and London.

But that trip itinerary to Denmark and London has raised questions about the amount of time Shulkin spent sightseeing.

The itinerary shows that on July 12, the first day of his first three days in Copenhagen, Shulkin visited multiple tourist stops. The next two days were spent on meetings with Danish government and health care officials to discuss veterans issues.

The first half of the six-day stay in London was dedicated to sightseeing before his full participation in a two-day veterans summit.

Shulkin arrived in London on Saturday, July 15 and according to the itinerary he spent the afternoon at the “Wimbledon Tennis Tournament with Friends.” That would have been the day of the Women’s singles final.

He spent the next two days visiting notable tourist sites in London including Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and took a “Thames River cruise to Greenwich Pier/Followed by dinner/evening in Piccadilly Circus.”

But from the afternoon of Wednesday, July 19, through Friday, July 21, Shulkin was immersed in full-day participation in the veterans conference.

“All activities on the itinerary were reviewed and approved by ethics counsel,” said Curt Cashour, the VA Press Secretary.

Cashour said the rules permit government reimbursement for a spouse’s “temporary duty” travel expenses.

According to a VA press release, the department is the first federal agency to make public the travel details of its top official. “The information will also include what VA staff and spouses accompany him on each trip, if any, but for security reasons, members of the Secretary’s security detail will not be listed by name or number,” said the release.

“Under this Administration, VA is committed to becoming the most transparent organization in government, and I’m pleased to take another step in that direction with this move,” Secretary Shulkin said. “Veterans and taxpayers have a right to know about my official travel as Secretary, and posting this information online for all to see will do just that.”

According to the release, Shulkin “pointed to the move as the fourth major step in long-sought transparency and accountability actions at VA.” Previous actions include the VA’s public listing of wait times and quality/satisfaction data at all VA medical centers, adverse employee actions and employee settlements.