Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin blames his recent firing by President Donald Trump on Wednesday on Trump-appointed officials at the VA who want to see the department privatized. The is V.A. is the second-largest government agency, tending to the needs of nearly nine million veterans across the country. Shulkin had been under fire for weeks after the V.A. Inspector General determined that he had made a number of ethics violations during a recent European trip with his wife, including accepting Wimbledon tickets.
Shulkin, who was appointed to the position in 2015 under former President Barack Obama, confided to Chief of Staff John Kelly in a meeting last month about his increasing distrust in Trump-appointed staffers who he believed were working to undermine him. Sensing his weakness due to the recent inspector general’s report, Trump officials had sought to promote their agenda of privatizing V.A. functions.
A former United States Navy physician, Shulkin said he cared little for those who were “playing politics” around him. In an interview with Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski, Shulkin stressed his fears for the organization after his departure. “I am very concerned about the future of the V.A. and to make sure that this organization stays on track with the type of progress we’ve been making, and that it’s not hijacked or dismantled,” he said.
In an op-ed Shulkin penned to the New York Times, he wrote that “they [individuals within the Trump administration] saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” before warning that he believed the private sector to be “ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing VA hospitals and clinics, particularly when it involves the mental health needs of people scarred by the horrors of war.”
“I believe differences in philosophy deserve robust debate, and solutions should be determined based on the merits of the arguments. The advocates within the administration for privatizing V.A. health services, however, reject this approach,” Shulkin added. “The president gets lots of opinions, as you know, different advisers, and ultimately he has to make up his mind about the direction and the leadership of an organization important to the country like the VA.”
White House physician Ron Jackson will be replacing Shulkin as secretary of veterans affairs. Asked by Brzezinski about what advice the former secretary might have for Jackson, Shulkin said “this is a complex job with a full team in place and that’s going to be essential for Dr. Jackson, to build a strong team around him.”
The V.A. still does not yet have officials to oversee the roles of Chief Information Officer, Secretary of Health as well as Secretary of Benefits.