President Donald Trump’s reshuffling of his Cabinet continued Wednesday with the ouster of Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.
The now-former Veterans Affairs secretary will be replaced by Jackson, Trump’s current presidential physician who performed his most recent physical examination. Jackson was appointed to that position in 2013 by former President Barack Obama and was retained by Trump.
Shulkin, also a holdover from the Obama era, served as the head of the nation’s second-largest government agency for little more than a year. He had been locked for months in a power struggle with a group of Trump political appointees among his senior staff who wanted him out.
Shulkin had pledged the VA would not be privatized on his watch but would provide veterans expanded opportunities to get private-sector care. White House political appointees want a more comprehensive overhaul and to give veterans even more access to VA-funded care in the private sector.
Push for privatization?
“The abrupt dismissal of Secretary Shulkin is a troubling step in the Trump Administration’s ultimate goal of VA privatization,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. She is one of several Democrats to link Shulkin’s ousting to the push for privatization.
“Let’s be clear: Secretary Shulkin was fired because he would not allow private sector health care companies to profit off of veterans’ health care,” said Rep. Mark Takano. “I appreciate his service and hope the next Secretary will also stand up for the millions of veterans who rely on the VA for care.”
Lawmakers who gave public reactions Wednesday largely praised Shulkin for his work. Sen. Tom Carper credited Shulkin with restoring trust in the agency among veterans while modernizing VA facilities and cutting the number of opioid prescriptions.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup said that under Shulkin “many positive accomplishments during the last year have led to better care and opportunities for our veterans.” He said he looks forward to working with Jackson and welcomed having a physician leading the VA.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth said Shulkin was “qualified and prepared for the job,” and that while he made mistakes, he showed a commitment to improving the quality of VA services.
Some support change
Still others supported the change in leadership. Rep. Mike Coffman said Shulkin “did nothing to clean up the culture of bureaucratic incompetence that has defined the leadership at the VA.” He said only someone from outside the agency can bring needed changes.
Sen. Lindsey Graham strongly supported Jackson as that choice, calling his selection a “homerun pick” and “great news for the American veteran.”
Shulkin’s VA tenure was marked by his implication in a widening ethics scandal. In September 2017, the Veteran Affairs Inspector General’s office found that he spent nearly half of a taxpayer-funded 10-day trip to Europe sightseeing with his wife.
Shulkin initially defended the trip, which included shopping, attending the women’s tennis final at Wimbledon, and a river cruise, as “nothing inappropriate.”
The inspector general, however, stated in a report, that Shulkin’s chief of staff had lied to investigators and forged an email to justify Shulkin’s wife’s presence on the trip.
The report also found that Shulkin had misled investigators about the nature of his relationship with the woman who provided Wimbledon tickets for himself and his wife, describing her as a “friend” of his wife’s instead of as a business contact. The woman, when asked by investigators, could not remember Shulkin’s wife’s first name.