President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs is David Shulkin, a physician who already works at the VA as chief executive of the Veterans Health Administration.
Shulkin, 57, is Trump's first Cabinet nominee who was appointed to his current position by outgoing President Barack Obama. He was nominated and confirmed in mid-2015 to head the Veterans Health Administration, the nation's largest integrated health-care system, with 300,000 employees caring for nearly 9 million veterans.
If confirmed, Shulkin would be the first VA chief without prior military service -- a detail that has aroused some concern by veterans groups. However, he has a family history of military service and of providing military medical care. Both of his grandfathers served in World War I. His father was a psychiatrist who was an Army captain and his grandfather was chief pharmacist at the VA in Madison, Wisconsin.
The nonpartisan veterans group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said Shulkin "is well known to us, [as] a man of character and has been a trusted partner." But the group also noted the "unprecedented" selection of a non-veteran to lead the VA, and added that its members "overwhelmingly supported the selection of a veteran for this critical position."
In announcing Shulkin as his choice, Trump said Wednesday he has no doubt the physician "will straighten out the VA" and "restore the level of care we owe to our brave men and women in the military."
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the VA health-care system will be designated a "high risk" issue by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office in a forthcoming report. The GAO's biennial report lists federal programs that could face significant problems due to waste, fraud, mismanagement or structural flaws.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (known as the Veterans Administration before it was reorganized in the late 1980s) was hit hard by a scandal in 2014, when falsified records were found responsible for unacceptably lengthy waiting times for veterans' enrollment and for the provision of medical services.
A report by the agency's inspector general issued two months after Shulkin's appointment found that there were 800,000 stalled records for veterans trying to enroll for health care. Of that number, 307,000 belonged to veterans who had already died, according to the report.
Shulkin was born on an Army base in Highland Park, Illinois, in 1959. He received his medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania, interned at Yale University School of Medicine and has held a number of other academic positions. At the time he was brought into government by Obama in 2015, Shulkin was president of Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey. During that time he also founded and served as the chairman and CEO of DoctorQuality, a consumer-oriented information service.