Amid Turmoil, VA Names New Permanent Chief of Staff

VA Secretary David Shulkin arrives on Capitol Hill to testify before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee on Feb. 15. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
VA Secretary David Shulkin arrives on Capitol Hill to testify before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee on Feb. 15. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Following the departure of Department of Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff Vivieca Wright Simpson, the VA announced Friday that Peter O'Rourke, who leads the new accountability office at the VA, will now be its permanent chief of staff.

Along with the announcement came the message that O'Rourke's presence will ensure VA leadership works closely with the White House going forward.

O'Rourke, a Navy and Air Force veteran, has headed the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection since it was created in May. In the role, he advises Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin on matters of employee discipline. O'Rourke was previously a member of President Donald Trump's transition team.

Wright Simpson stepped down from the job Friday morning, following findings that she misled an ethics official into approving expenses for the VA secretary's wife on a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe. In addition to the ethical violations, her retirement comes amid reports of internal strife at the agency between a White House appointee and longtime civil servants.

On Wednesday, VA Inspector General Michael Missal released a report detailing "serious derelictions" by VA personnel during a 10-day trip to Copenhagen and London, which included full days of leisure activities and cost taxpayers at least $122,000.

Following the report, Shulkin has been attempting to address divisions in the agency and battling for his own political survival. When asked Friday whether he had the confidence of the president, Shulkin said only that he is in "constant contact" with the White House. In the official, two-sentence statement posted to the VA website Friday announcing O'Rourke's new job, Shulkin isn't mentioned.

Shortly after the announcement, a typed message from Shulkin was shared on Twitter by an account run by the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Office. In the message, Shulkin takes responsibility for "unfortunate distractions" over the past week, adding that he is grateful O'Rourke agreed to take on the chief of staff role.

Earlier Friday, Shulkin expressed disappointment at Wright Simpson's retirement.

"I think that she had a great deal of knowledge of the organization and great relations all throughout the health care system," Shulkin told Stars and Stripes. "One of the reasons I selected her is, I'm still relatively an outsider to the organization and her organizational knowledge was very helpful in understanding how you make changes."

O'Rourke will continue to serve as director of the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection until a new leader is named.

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This article is written by Nikki Wentling from Stars and Stripes and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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