WASHINGTON - Ousted U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is taking a few parting shots at Trump administration officials after President Donald Trump fired him and replaced him with his personal physician.
In a New York Times opinion article Thursday, Shulkin said unnamed Trump aides supporting the privatization of health care for the country's nearly 19 million veterans, to supplant the government care provided by the Veterans Affairs agency, wanted him dismissed.
"They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed," Shulkin said. "That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans."
Trump nominated his doctor, Admiral Ronny Jackson, to replace Shulkin, a holdover official from the administration of Trump's predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
Shulkin said the department he is leaving has become "entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what's best for veterans." He accused them of failing "to engage in realistic plans regarding who will care for the more than nine million veterans who rely on the department for life-sustaining care."
Shulkin, a physician, said the "environment in Washington has turned so toxic, chaotic, disrespectful and subversive that it became impossible for me to accomplish the important work that our veterans need and deserve. As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought: It should not be this hard to serve your country."
Aside from the ongoing public debate about how U.S. veterans receive medical care, Shulkin's yearlong tenure as chief of an agency with 377,000 employees was caught up in controversy over an ethics scandal of his own making. Last September, the Veteran Affairs Inspector General's office found that Shulkin spent nearly half of a taxpayer-funded 10-day trip to Europe sightseeing with his wife, Merle Bari.
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 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.
Shulkin repaid $4,312 for his wife's airplane ticket.
Jackson, the new Veterans Affairs chief, is Trump's current presidential physician who performed his most recent physical examination. Jackson was appointed to that position in 2013 by Obama and was retained by Trump.