By Paige Minemyer, Fierce Healthcare
President Donald Trump fired David Shulkin as Department of Veterans Affairs secretary last week and tapped White House physician Ronny Jackson as Shulkin’s replacement.
Trump praised Jackson as “highly respected” in his Twitter announcement, and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed the sentiment in a tweet of her own, saying that he and other cabinet nominees should be confirmed “without delay.”
I am pleased to announce that I intend to nominate highly respected Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD, as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2018
Mike Pompeo (State), Gina Haspel (CIA), and Admiral Ronny Jackson (VA) have served our country with honor and distinction, are highly respected on both sides of the aisle, and should be confirmed without delay.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) March 30, 2018
However, veterans’ groups expressed concern about Jackson’s lack of experience in managing government agencies, let alone one the size of the VA.
A former VA official told Politico that his “first reaction” to the announcement was “OMG.”
(Learn More. President Trump announces his intention to replace Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin with Rear Adm. Courtesy of Fox News and YouTube)
Jackson’s experience—or lack thereof—will certainly be a point of contention in his confirmation hearings.
Here are a few more facts to know about Trump’s pick to head the VA:
1. He has served in three presidential administrations.
- Jackson first joined the White House medical staff in 2006 during the Bush administration, according to his Navy biography, and has directed the Executive Health Care for the President’s Cabinet and Senior Staff.
- He was named Physician to the President by President Barack Obama in 2008, a role he continued under Trump.
- Jackson has also served as physician supervisor for the Camp David presidential retreat.
2. Jackson is still an active duty soldier.
- Jackson was serving in Iraq as an emergency physician and specializing in resuscitating troops when he was notified that he would be joining the White House Medical Unit.
- He began active duty naval service in 1995, according to his biography.
- The White House announced on March 23 that it had nominated Jackson for a promotion to rear admiral (upper half), which would make him a two-star admiral, CNN reported.
3. He caught Trump’s eye after announcing the results of the president’s physical in January.
- The president was impressed with Jackson’s performance at a January press conference where he revealed the results of Trump’s annual physical, CBS News reported.
- A source told CBS that Trump is also personally fond of Jackson.
- At the press conference, Jackson answered reporters’ questions about Trump’s health for more than an hour, saying that if the president had maintained a healthier diet over the past 20 years, “he might live to be 200 years old.”
4. His stance on key VA issues is an unknown.
- Where Jackson stands on crucial issues at the agency he could soon command is not publicly known, according to Politico.
- This extends to privatizing the department’s health system.
- Shulkin said that his opposition to VA privatization is the main reason he was pushed out.
I will be accepting @realdonaldtrump‘s appointment to the Veteran’s Administration. Appreciate the congrats!
— Dr. Ronny Jackson (@drronnyjackson) March 28, 2018
- Jackson does have Trump’s ear, though.
- Richard Tubb, M.D., the longest-tenured White House physician and Jackson’s mentor, told CBS that White House doctors have been “figuratively Velcro-ed” to Trump since he won the election.
- “On Jan. 20, 2017, Dr. Jackson became that Velcro,” Tubb said.
5. Shulkin has praised his potential replacement
- Following his ouster, Shulkin didn’t mince words about what it was like at the VA, writing in a New York Times op-ed last week that “the environment in Washington has turned so toxic, chaotic, disrespectful and subversive” that he struggled to accomplish his goals at the agency.
- However, he told ABC News that Jackson, despite his lack of experience, should be able to build a team around him that will allow him to succeed at the VA if he’s confirmed.
(David Shulkin responds to criticisms of Veterans Affairs leadership. Courtesy of Fox News and YouTube. Posted on Mar 29, 2018)
- Shulkin told CNN that Jackson is a friend, and that he “will do everything that I can” to help him in the transition.