President Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, a Philadelphia-based doctor who was engulfed in scandal at the federal agency, on Wednesday. Trying to catch up on the controversy and latest shake-up in the Trump administration? Here’s what you need to know about Shulkin and his firing.
The firing and Shulkin’s response
….In the interim, Hon. Robert Wilkie of DOD will serve as Acting Secretary. I am thankful for Dr. David Shulkin’s service to our country and to our GREAT VETERANS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2018
In Thursday’s New York Times, Shulkin wrote a blistering op-ed in which he blasted the “toxic, chaotic, disrespectful and subversive” environment in Washington and claimed members of Trump’s administration scapegoated him as an Obama-era holdover and pushed for his removal due to their desire to privatize the VA.
“They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. 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,” Shulkin wrote. “The department’s understanding of service-related health problems, its groundbreaking research and its special ability to work with military veterans cannot be easily replicated in the private sector.”
The firing comes a month after the VA’s internal watchdog concluded that Shulkin had improperly accepted Wimbledon tennis tickets and that his then-chief of staff had doctored emails to justify his wife traveling to Europe with him at taxpayer expense. Shulkin had agreed to reimburse the government more than $4,000.
Shulkin told NPR’s Morning Edition on Thursday that the administration didn’t let him publicly defend himself against the ethics controversy, which he called overhyped and mischaracterized as a family vacation.
“This was the five allies conference, a trip that the VA secretary has participated in for 40 years with major allies,” Shulkin said. “Everything was pre approved by our ethics committee. When the inspector general didn’t like the way that my staff had handled the approval, I wrote a check back to the government.”
Shulkin’s Philly and Pennsylvania ties
Shulkin lives in Gladwyne on the Main Line with his wife, dermatologist Merle Bari.
He earned his medical degree at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, interned at Yale, and was a resident at the University of Pittsburgh. He spent more than a decade managing hospitals in Philadelphia, serving as chief medical officer at Penn Medicine, the Medical College of Pennsylvania, and Temple University Hospital.
His tenure at the VA
In 2015, Shulkin was lured from the private sector and appointed by President Barack Obama as the VA’s undersecretary for health. The agency at the time was reeling from public outrage over mismanagement and allegations that veterans were dying while waiting for care. (An audit released in June 2014 found more than 57,400 vets had waited 90 days or longer for new-patient appointments nationwide.)
In 2016, an article on Philly.com asked: Can Philadelphia’s David Shulkin cure the VA?
In January 2017, Trump appointed Shulkin as Veterans Affairs secretary and said, “He’s fantastic. He will do a truly great job.”
Shulkin had a number of accomplishments early in his term as the VA’s lead official, as the Washington Post details:
He delivered multiple legislative victories for Trump during his first year at the agency, from a bill that clears a fast path to firing employees accused of misconduct to measures aimed at easing the backlog of benefit appeals. He oversaw creation of a 24-hour hotline for veteran complaints and improved transparency, posting wait times for medical appointments at each facility and other quality-control measures consistent with many private sector hospitals.
Trump pick to replace Shulkin is Ronny L. Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy who has served as the White House physician for the past three administrations. In January, Jackson gave an hour-long press conference where he answered questions from reporters about Trump’s physical and gave the president a glowing bill of health.
“I know Dr. Jackson very well, I would consider him a good friend,” Shulkin said on Morning Edition. “He is a very honorable man. Served the country, cares a great deal about veterans.”
Shulkin’s firing was the latest in a series of departures for top administration officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired by Trump earlier this month. Also fired was Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a Philadelphia native, who was ousted as Trump’s national security adviser and replaced by John Bolton.
The sudden departure comes as Trump is seeking to expand the Veterans Choice program, a campaign promise that major veterans’ groups worry could be an unwanted step toward privatizing VA health care. His plan remains in limbo in Congress after lawmakers declined last week to include it in a spending bill.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.