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Shulkin Out at VA, Trump Nominates White House Physician as Replacement


The President tweeted that he was nominating Admiral Ronny L. Jackson to head the agency without formally announcing that Shulkin had been fired.

David Shulkin is out as the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), according to a pair of tweets from the President of the United States.

President Trump did not actually acknowledge outright that Shulkin had been let go: He began the statement by saying that he was nominating White House physician Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD, to replace him. In a continuation of that first tweet, he thanked Shulkin for his service to the country.

The move comes after months of speculation about Shulkin’s future with the agency. A number of names had been thrown around as his potential replacement, but Jackson’s was not typically among them.

If confirmed, Jackson will take the reins with a wealth of medical and military experience.

Trump said he is pleased to nominate the veteran. “Admiral Jackson is highly trained and qualified and as a service member himself, he has seen firsthand the tremendous sacrifice our veterans make and has a deep appreciation for the debt our great country owes them,” the president said in an official statement.

He earned his Doctor of Medicine in 1995 from the University of Texas Medical Branch. That same year, he became active duty in the United States Navy, eventually becoming the honor graduate of its Undersea Medical Officer Program. He then went on to receive similar accolades for his emergency medicine residency at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.

In 2005, Jackson was deployed to Taqaddum, Iraq, with Marines regiment based in North Carolina. During his deployment there, he oversaw resuscitative medicine for a surgical shock trauma platoon, according to a White House statement. Through his decade in active duty, he held various leadership positions and won at least 9 awards.

When his time on the battlefield ended, Jackson entered cozier quarters—in the White House. Since 2006, he has orchestrated care for the cabinet and senior staff of the George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Trump administrations.

Shulkin’s 13-month tenure was marked by audacious goals, continuing problems, and controversy. The final straw may have been a series of personal controversies regarding the misuse of public funds.

Early on he announced an intention to modernize the VA, and he committed the agency to a massive electronic health records (EHR) overhaul that would have seen its entire health system transition to a Cerner platform over the next decade. That contract has yet to materialize, and projected costs seemed to be growing of late. It is unclear whether the change in administration will affect that arrangement.

Amidst rampant speculation about his impending departure, Shulkin delivered a series of public appearances, including a turn at the annual HIMSS meeting earlier this month in Las Vegas. Last week at the Population Health Colloquium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. During his speech at the latter, he emphasized his belief in VA’s ability to lead the way for all of American healthcare, and the importance of maintaining the military’s independence when providing care for veterans.

“I did not want to ever get involved in the politics of Washington,” he said during his speech there. “I fundamentally believe the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs must not become politicized.”

Robert Wilkie, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at the Department of Defense, will serve as Acting Secretary in the interim.

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