Trump nominates personal physician to lead troubled VA; Outgoing secretary alleges political framing

President Trump dismissed his embattled Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary on Saturday and has nominated his personal physician to lead the problematic agency.

Amid a string of embarrassing incidents, the use of tax dollars for luxury travel and policy conflicts with the White House among them, David Shulkin was removed as head of the VA by presidential tweet.

Responding, Shulkin told NPR the White House wanted to privatize the VA, a plan he opposed, and that a European trip paid for with taxpayer dollars was “completely mischaracterized.”

“I think that it’s essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization,” he said.

“There was nothing improper about this trip, and I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House. . . . I think this was really just being used in a political context to try to make sure that I wasn’t as effective as a leader moving forward.”

To succeed Shulkin, the president has submitted Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who serves as White House physician, to lead the department.

Dr. Jackson has served on the White House medical staff since 2006 and was the personal physician of former President Barack Obama.

A 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, Jackson was thrust into the spotlight in January following his first annual examination of President Trump.

Grilled by probing reporters during a White House briefing in January, Jackson declared Trump to be in “excellent health” as reporters sought answers regarding Trump’s physical and mental fitness.  Enduring a 50-minute grilling, Jackson attributed the fast-food-eating president’s condition to “good genetics.”

A certified physician since 1995, Jackson completed his medical residency while on active duty in 1996.  Shortly after a brief tour in Iraq, Jackson was chosen to become a part of the White House medical unit and has remained on staff since 2006.

A career physician who lacks administrative experience, Jackson’s nomination to head an agency beset by problems received mixed reviews.  Despite holding a sterling reputation as a medical doctor, some individuals and groups expressed skepticism.

“We look forward to understanding more about the qualifications of Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD to helm the VA during this critical time.  The VA has a broad mission and the secretary must be someone who is eminently qualified to lead the nation’s second largest cabinet agency,” Carl Blake, executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America said in a statement.

Lawmakers nonetheless appeared to greet Jackson’s nomination with caution.

Eager to become acquainted with Jackson, Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs chair, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said:  “I look forward to meeting Admiral Jackson and learning more about him.”

Similarly, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, said:  “(He looks) forward to meeting Admiral Jackson soon and seeing if he is up to the job.”

If confirmed, Jackson will oversee an agency which treats over 9 million eligible veterans, employs over 300,000, administers over 1,000 outpatient sites and 170 medical centers, and which manages a $186 billion annual budget.


[Military Times] [The Hill] [Photo courtesy Reuters via Fox News]