Vivieca Wright Simpson, who had served at the department for 32 years, had been a target of critics within VA for what they saw as bureaucratic inaction on a host of reforms proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration. She had previously served as Shulkin’s chief of staff at the Veterans Health Administration before he was promoted to the department’s top post.
“She called me this morning and told me she doesn’t want to be in this environment anymore,” Shulkin told Military Times on Friday.
In a scathing report released Wednesday, an inspector general investigation accused her of doctoring emails before the secretary’s July 2017 trip to Denmark to justify bringing his wife along as an official guest. As a result, her airfare and related costs (totaling more than $4,000) were covered by taxpayer funds.
David Shulkin is pushing back against accusations in a scathing IG report about an overseas trip, but says he will go along with investigators' recommendations.
By: Leo Shane III
The IG report says the “false representations and alteration of an official record may have violated federal criminal statutes” and has referred the matter to the Department of Justice.
But Shulkin, in an appearance on Capitol Hill on Thursday, suggested that her emails may have been hacked by individuals working against his leadership team.
“I wish I could tell you why someone can take over someone’s email and impersonate them,” he said to reporters after a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing. “We have found that someone has taken over the chief of staff’s email and sending emails as if it’s her. So we need to understand that.”
Sign up for the Retirement Report Each week, get insights on retirement benefits and issues
Shulkin did not say at the time if he expected Wright Simpson to be ultimately cleared of all wrongdoing in the case. He said on Friday that her resignation would not change his plans for a full review of actions of all the staff involved in the travel scandal.
“I’ve publicly said we are going to go along with all of the IG recommendations, and this doesn’t change that,” he said. “No Cabinet secretary can run a department unless the entire team is aligned around the president’s agenda. Moving ahead, that’s going to be essential.”
The IG report also accused Shulkin of improperly accepting tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament from an English businesswoman, improperly using VA staff to coordinate tourist stops on the 10-day trip, and lying about how he handled authorizations for his wife’s travel and non-work time.
The secretary has vigorously disputed those charges, but also agreed to pay back the disputed charges and go along with the inspector general’s recommendations for reforms.
“I do regret the decisions that have been made that have taken the focus off our [VA reform] work,” he told members of the committee on Thursday.
Department of Justice officials thus far have declined to press charges against Wright Simpson for the violations outlined in the report.
Meanwhile, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Tim Walz, D-Minn., on Thursday sent a letter to Justice officials asking them to look into Shulkin’s allegations of email hacking, calling them “very serious” if true.
The department turmoil comes amid weeks of conflict at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which had been one of the success stories thus far for President Donald Trump’s administration.
But in the last month, rumors of internal discord — and public reports that Wright Simpson and other top officials could be fired to send a message to Shulkin — have raised concerns among lawmakers and veterans organizations.
Shulkin said he is working to keep the department focused on Trump’s reform plans, and not let the travel scandal overwhelm leadership’s focus.
He met with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Thursday to discuss the recent controversies, and was told to stay focused on improving health care options for veterans and bettering other VA services even while the internal investigations continue.
Shulkin also said Kelly relayed that the president still has full confidence in his leadership at VA. The secretary added that he’s begun looking for replacements for Wright Simpson.
“We still have a lot of work to do ahead,” he said. “We’ve got to get the right people in place and continue forward.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was signed into law on July 26. 1990. More than fifty million Americans have some kind of physical, cognitive, sensory, or mental disability. The ADA’s extensive provisions for employment, state and local governments, transportation,public accommodations, and telecommunications, has helped end discrimination towards those with disabilities tremendously.Congress' concern to eliminate intentional and benign discrimination against disabled individuals is evident in the findings and purpose of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12101. The purpose of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act is "to include persons”.The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was signed into law on July 26. 1990. More than fifty million Americans have some kind of physical, cognitive, sensory, or mental disability. The ADA’s extensive provisions for employment, state and local governments, transportation,public accommodations, and telecommunications, has helped end discrimination towards those with disabilities tremendously. However, the fight is far from over, and even in our public schools, we find that faculty and educators are many times, inadaquately trained to understand, and conform to the ADA. In a Northern California High School, a young student with Asperger's Syndrome (a form of Autism) has developed an aversion to wearing footwear, which is symptomatic to his disability, and has been denied the right to finish and graduate at the public ceremony barefoot. The student had been attending classes barefoot with de facto acceptance from teachers until the Principle discovered him barefoot in the halls one day. The Principle refused to accommodate the student’s symptomatic issue even after the student’s parents requested accommodation. The Principle and his superiors claim it is a safety issue and the school's financial liability overrides reasonable accommodation. The parents offered to sign a release of liability, which at first was acceptable but then they were told it was not sufficient. The student would not be allowed on campus nor even attend his graduation ceremony barefoot. The ADA states: “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs,or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” (42 U.S.C. §Section 12132) There have been many cases where school districts and other public entities waste taxpayers money fighting the ADA, only to lose in federal court because reasonable accommodation is not understood. It is reasonable accommodation to accept a waiver and release of liability from the parents of the student. The school has a football team and other sports activities that require athletes and participants sign such releases. It can be argued that many injuries have occurred through those programs. How many times has a barefoot student posed a danger to others, much less injured themselves and the school was harmed? The student's diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome is recent, although the school was aware of the students Attention Deficit Disorder diagnosis earlier and failed to start the Individual Education Plan (IEP) as required by law. The Principle told the parents that by the time they can redress the ban from campus, the school year will be over. The school is also rejecting the Asperger’s diagnosis until the school’s experts can now evaluate him. Had the evaluation been done in timely fashion as the law prescribes, time would not be against the student to have the resolution completed. The ADA utilizes a three-pronged definition of disability. For the purpose of coverage under the ADA, a person with a disability is defined as an individual who: has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or has a record or history of such an impairment; or is perceived or regarded as having such an impairment. The phrase "major life activities" means functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks. Whether or not an impairment substantially limits a major life activity is made on an individual basis, and is not based on the existence of a condition or impairment but rather by its impact on the individual. A substantial impairment will be found when the conditions, manner, or duration under which a major life activity can be performed by the individual are limited when compared to most people. The school cannot claim a safety issue is not addressed by liability waiver as they have published on a website that all graduates attending the official graduation party hosted by them, have a waiver of liability all students must sign: “By signing the Release and Assumption of Risk Agreement, you are releasing Project Graduation of all liability and accepting responsibility for any action by your son/daughter with respect to bodily injury and property." There will be dancing and as customary, shoes will come off. Shoes are not worn in some activities on campus and at sports games and events which come under the jurisdiction of the school and their surrogate agents. The school district maintains they have a right to keep their rule on the barefoot issue as an absolute rule. It has already been decided in one ADA court case that waiving an age requirement and safety claim for a disabled student to participate in football, a contact and dangerous sport, was reasonable accommodation. JOHNSON v. FLORIDA HIGH SCHOOL ACTIVITIES ASS'N, INC.899 F.Supp. 579 (1995) United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division September 6, 1995) Also, reasonable accommodation can be made where the student may be restricted to areas deemed threat free from nails, glass and foreign objects avoiding areas beyond maintenance workers control. Swimming area’s are kept free from glass and sharp objects, but in this day and age the entire campus is relatively monitored and policed well where students often go barefoot while in-between classes. Twenty seven years after enactment of the ADA, one would think we would be closer to ending discrimination against people with disabilities in education. This writer has experienced it as well in undergraduate institutions because administrators feel it is more important to protect academic standards, and school policy, than civil rights. Whether it is lack of empathy, training, or by adminstrators who have an "us against threm attitude" ...it seems we will always need advocates and organizations that monitor and intervene on behalf of our disabled. Congress' concern to eliminate intentional and benign discrimination against disabled individuals is evident in the findings and purpose of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12101. The purpose of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act is "to include persons”.
One small act can make a difference. Show your support for Veterans and Service members who may be in crisis, and spread the word about The Power of 1. Veterans, Service members, and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255, or chat online to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.
The responders at the Veterans Crisis Line are specially trained and experienced in helping Veterans of all ages and circumstances — from those coping with mental health issues that were never addressed to recent Veterans dealing with relationships or the transition back to civilian life.
Since its launch in 2007 through September 2016, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than 2.5 million calls and initiated the dispatch of emergency services to callers in crisis nearly 66,000 times. The Veterans Crisis Line anonymous online chat service, added in 2009, has engaged in nearly 308,000 chats. In November 2011, the Veterans Crisis Line introduced a text-messaging service to provide another way for Veterans to connect with confidential, round-the-clock support, and since then has responded to more than 60,000 texts.
VA is working to make sure that all Veterans and their loved ones are aware of the Veterans Crisis Line. To reach as many Veterans as possible, VA is coordinating with communities and partner groups nationwide — including community-based organizations, Veterans Service Organizations, and local health care providers — to let Veterans and their loved ones know that support is available whenever, if ever, they need it.
Dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone
WASHINGTON – Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Sunday proposed eliminating a controversial policy that limits veterans from receiving private-sector health care.
Speaking to hundreds of people at the Disabled American Veterans annual conference in Arlington, Va., Shulkin laid out his top 10 priorities for the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was his first public address since becoming VA secretary.
High on Shulkin’s list was redesigning the Veterans Choice Program into what he called “Choice 2.0.”
His plan would include removing the rule that allows veterans to go outside the VA for health care if they had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles driving distance from a VA facility. Some veterans and lawmakers have criticized the 40-mile, 30-day rule for limiting veterans’ health care choices, and Shulkin called the program “extremely complex and bureaucratic.”
“We want to make sure we continue the current program so veterans don’t experience any gap in care,” he said.
The program was created as a temporary measure in 2014 after it was discovered veterans were suffering long waits for health care at some VA facilities. It was funded with $10 billion and given an expiration date of Aug. 7, 2017.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., introduced legislation last month to do away with the expiration date. The lawmakers estimated by August, the choice program would still have approximately $1 billion in funding.
Congress has yet to taken action on either the House or Senate bill.
“If Congress doesn’t act, we will see a significant amount of resources be removed,” Shulkin said.
Shulkin has previously attempted to ease concerns that the VA would move completely to the private sector. He did so again Sunday, saying the private sector does not have the "military cultural competency" that the VA provides.
Shulkin on Sunday also listed employee accountability as a top priority. He said he would work to push legislation in Congress that would allow the VA to “make sure bad employees are leaving the system.”
Some lawmakers have pushed to make it easier to fire VA employees as a way to root out a perceived culture of corruption in the department.
The VA will also announce some “bold proposals” regarding suicide prevention in coming weeks, Shulkin said.
Trump commented during his campaign on the number of veteran suicides – calling it a “national tragedy” – and said he would improve mental health care at the VA. According to the latest VA statistics, an average of 20 veterans died from suicide each day in 2014.
Other priorities Shulkin listed Sunday included improving VA infrastructure, better coordinating with the Department of Defense, enhancing information technology and making quicker decisions on claims for disability and pension compensation.
“Now I’m focused on the future,” Shulkin told Stars and Stripes. “I’m focused on how we can make significant advancements from where we were to make this a better system.”
Disabled American Veterans and other veterans organizations will have opportunities soon to highlight their own priorities for VA reform to the Senate and House veterans' affairs committees.
Disabled American Veterans will present their priorities to lawmakers on Tuesday, followed by The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars on Wednesday.