Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he would name David Shulkin to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"And by the way, speaking of veterans, I appointed today the head secretary of the Veterans Administration, David Shulkin," Trump said during a wide-ranging press conference, adding, "He's fantastic. He will do a truly great job."
Shulkin currently serves as undersecretary for health at the VA, and his appointment marks a rare gesture to maintain government continuity under the new administration.
According to his bio, Shulkin currently leads the the Veterans Health Administration, serving nearly 9 million veterans each year. Prior to being nominated by President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate in June 2015, Shulkin served as president of Morristown Medical Center, Gorybe Children's Hospital, and Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute, and the Atlantic Health System Accountable Care Organization.
A board-certified internist and a fellow of the American College of Physicians, Shulkin would be the first non-veteran to ever serve as VA secretary, according to the Military Times.
Trump announced his intention to nominate Shulkin during his first news conference as president-elect. He vowed to "straighten out the VA," whose health care system will be designated a "high risk" issue by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office in a forthcoming report, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Issued every two years, the GAO's "high risk" list identifies troubled federal programs that could cause significant problems due to waste, fraud, mismanagement or structural flaws, according to the AP.
In a statement, the non-partisan veterans group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) hailed the prospect of continuity at the VA, while voicing strong concerns about having a non-veteran lead the department for the first time in history.
"We are optimistic about the nomination of Dr. Shulkin by the President-elect," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA. "He is well known to us, a man of character and has been a trusted partner of IAVA at VA. However, his selection is unprecedented. Our membership overwhelmingly supported the selection of a veteran for this critical leadership position."
Jon Soltz, Iraq War veteran and chair of the nonpartisan group VoteVets.org, also released a statement championing Trump's acknowledgement that "President Obama appointed good people at the VA." However, Soltz added, "for Dr. Shulkin to gain our support, he must verify, under oath, that he will not implement any plan that would lead to full VA privatization — as Trump's Koch funded advisers laid out during the campaign."
|© David Shulkin, under secretary of Health for the Department of Veterans Affairs, leaves Trump Tower ... Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP|
Trump picks David Shulkin for secretary of Veterans Affairs
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his choice of David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Shulkin is the current undersecretary for health at the VA and has been in that post since July 2015.
"I'll tell you about David: He's fantastic, he's fantastic," Trump said. "He will do a truly great job. One of the commitments I made is that we're going to straighten out the whole situation for our veterans.
"Our veterans have been treated horribly, they're waiting in line for 15, 16, 17 days, cases where they go in and they have a minor early stage form of cancer, they can't see a doctor. By the time they get to a doctor, they're terminal," Trump said. "It's not going to happen, it's not going to happen."
During his tenure, Shulkin told USA TODAY recently that he had cut the number of veterans waiting for urgent care from 57,000 to 600. At the same time, he spearheaded an effort to provide same-day care at all 167 VA medical centers across the country by the end of last year. It’s unclear whether he reached that goal.
Shulkin is a physician who previously ran hospitals in New Jersey and New York and was named among the 100 most influential people in American health care by Modem Healthcare.
Trump promised during the presidential campaign to overhaul the VA so that veterans wouldn’t have to wait for care and could choose to get care outside the VA if they wanted. Currently, they can do that if they can’t get a VA appointment within 30 days or within 40 miles of their homes.
Shulkin has said in interviews that he favors a hybrid model, where the VA provides care that it specializes in, such as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and loss of limbs, for example. And he said the VA should consider discontinuing other services that the private sector may better provide, such as obstetrics and gynecology.
Shulkin is blunt about the challenges facing the VA. He has said the agency has had trouble attracting talent from outside the VA, at one point, saying simply, "I need help."
Trump, who made the announcement about Shulkin during Wednesday's long-awaited news conference, said his team is going to be vetting people to join him at the VA to help overhaul the agency. He said leaders from respected hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic have agreed to help.
"We're going to straighten out the VA," Trump said. "I've been promising that for a long time, and it's something I feel very very strongly (about)."
He said he and his team interviewed "at least 100 people, some good, some not so good," before settling on Shulkin. Among the candidates were former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown.
"We think this selection will be something that will — with time, with time— straighten it out, and straighten it out for good because our veterans have been treated very unfairly," he said.
In a statement, Shulkin said he was honored to be chosen and said Trump's commitment to caring for veterans is "unquestionable."
"(H)e is eager to support the best practices for care and provide our Veterans Affairs’ teams with the resources they need to improve health outcomes," he said. "We are both eager to begin reforming the areas in our Veterans Affairs system that need critical attention, and do it in a swift, thoughtful and responsible way.”
David Shulkin tapped as Trump’s VA secretary
President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he has tapped David Shulkin, a physician who is currently serving in the Obama administration as VA undersecretary, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The decision ends a protracted search for a head of the second-largest federal agency and would make Shulkin the first VA secretary who had not served in the military. Trump said he and his transition team had interviewed “at least 100 people” in their search for an executive to carry out multiple promises he has made to improve the care of veterans. In the end, they looked inside.
Shulkin, 57, who would be the first Obama administration holdover for Trump, was confirmed unanimously for his post as undersecretary in charge of the Veterans Health Administration in June 2015, a sign he could breeze through the Senate confirmation process.
“I have no doubt Dr. Shulkin will be able to lead the turnaround our Department of Veterans Affairs needs,” Trump said at his first news conference since his election, calling him an “incredibly gifted doctor.”
“His sole mandate will be to serve our veterans and restore the level of care we owe to our brave men and women in the military,” Trump said. “Sadly our great veterans have not gotten the level of care they deserve, but Dr. Shulkin has the experience and the vision to ensure we will meet the health-care needs of every veteran.”
Shulkin is an internist who came to government with 30 years’ experience leading private hospitals. He has led the sprawling veterans health system — the country’s largest, with 1,700 clinics and hospitals — for 18 months, working to improve patients’ access to care after a nationwide scandal over fudged wait lists for medical appointments.
During his campaign, Trump called VA a “broken” system that treats illegal immigrants “better than our vets.”
Shulkin is in line to run an agency beset by challenges, including a backlog in disability claims that has shifted in recent years from initial applications to appeals; a rising suicide rate; overuse of opiates; and a shortage of doctors and nurses.
“We are both eager to begin reforming the areas in our Veterans Affairs system that need critical attention, and do it in a swift, thoughtful and responsible way,” Shulkin said in a statement released by the transition team.
In keeping Shulkin, Trump passed over the current secretary, Robert McDonald, a Republican appointed by Obama in 2014 after the wait-times scandal forced out his first VA chief, retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki. Washington’s large and influential veterans service organizations had pushed Trump unsuccessfully to keep McDonald in the job.
Trump also passed over a favorite of some of his top aides, Fox News Channel contributor and Iraq War veteran Pete Hegseth. Hegseth is a former president and chief executive of Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers. Hegseth had pledged to make it easier to fire poor performers and significantly expand VA medical care to private doctors outside the system. But he had not run a large organization comparable to the veterans system.
Expanding private care is one of Trump’s biggest priorities for veterans, and it is unclear how Shulkin would approach such a change. After some members of the congressionally created commission on VA health care called last year for drastically reducing the federal role in veterans’ medical care, Shulkin told the Daily Press in Virginia the idea was “terrible.”
“This would be a terrible mistake, a terrible direction for veterans and for the country, to essentially systematically implement recommendations that would lead to the end of the VA health-care system,” he said.
A specialist in health-care quality, Shulkin held leadership positions at the Drexel University College of Medicine, Temple University Hospital and the Medical College of Pennsylvania before coming to government. He founded a now-defunct company, DoctorQuality, that provided information for patients on health-care safety and quality.
He received his medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania, completed his internship at Yale School of Medicine and his residency and fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Presbyterian Medical Center.
His selection drew praise from some of the largest veterans groups as a welcome sign of continuity.
“The VFW is proud to support the nomination of Dr. David Shulkin as the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and we are most appreciative of his willingness to continue serving veterans and making the VA better,” Brian Duffy, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said in a statement.
Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, said in a statement: “It is no secret that the VA has been failing veterans for years. While Shulkin already holds a leadership position at the VA, as Secretary, he will now have ultimate responsibility over the agency and we are hopeful he will take it in a new direction.”
Louis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, said in an interview that Shulkin has had an open door not just to veterans groups but to his staff at the Veterans Health Administration.
Shulkin’s selection “says to me that Trump has faith in the direction VA is going with health care,” Celli said. “I think this is a huge reality check for a group of people who want to privatize VA.”
Of all the day-to-day operations of government that Trump criticized, VA, with its vast management challenges, came under special scrutiny. Finding the right person for the job was one of the president-elect’s biggest challenges.
In recent weeks, Trump had met with retired military leaders, politicians and health-care executives, some of whom would help diversify a Cabinet he is under pressure from some on his team to make more inclusive. Trump extended preliminary offers to several qualified contenders, but they turned him down, citing other commitments.