If Jackson is confirmed, he will inherit a Department of Veterans Affairs that has been faced with challenges that have spanned years. The department, which has 370,000 employees and serves more than 20 million veterans, has struggled to modernize with its inefficient health care system ensnared in crisis.
David Shulkin, fired by the President on Wednesday, departs at a critical moment with big decisions about the future of veterans’ health care and its health records systems waiting in the wings.
Jackson has served for the last three administrations as a White House physician and is an active duty rear admiral in the Navy, but has little management experience.
That’s led to a muted public response on Capitol Hill and private concerns that Trump’s pick of Jackson, a man who has the President’s affection and has been at the White House since 2006, is the right person for the job.
The top senators on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, chairman Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and ranking member Jon Tester of Montana, had little to say publicly about the President’s choice. In separate statements, Isakson said he looks forward “to learning more about him,” and Tester saying he wants to find out if Jackson is “up for the job.”
Chris Lu, who served as the liaison to former President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, told CNN, “VA is not only the largest health care system in the nation, but it also provides benefits for millions of veterans and their family members. Running this department is a massive management task. As accomplished a physician as Ronny Jackson might be, he brings less management experience to this job than any previous VA secretary.”
A spokesperson for the former president declined to comment on Trump’s decision to nominate Jackson.
in a tweet Thursday.
“I personally know and greatly respect Ronny Jackson …. as a terrific doctor and Navy officer,” Brennan wrote. “However, he has neither the experience nor the credentials to run the very large and complex VA. This is a terribly misguided nomination that will hurt both a good man and our veterans.”
Jackson’s views on some of the most pressing issues at the department remain unknown, particularly on the debate over allowing veterans more access to private doctors outside of the VA’s health care system. Roughly one third of veterans already see private doctors, but the President and his allies are pushing for more private care, particularly the group Concerned Veterans for America, which is backed by the billionaire Koch brothers.
The group did not include a mention of Jackson in a press release after his nomination was announced. It said Shulkin had made “significant headway in reforming the department but ultimately became a distraction.”
Asked how Jackson is qualified to oversee medical care for US veterans, a White House official told CNN Wednesday that Jackson would bring with him both a medical and military background to the department as well as past praise for his work in previous administrations.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, said on CNN’s “New Day” that former VA administrators with more experience weren’t getting the job done.
“I think if you look back and you look at the previous VA secretaries, those who supposedly had management experience who have come in, we have seen disasters under their regimes,” Lewandowski.
Nevertheless, one of Shulkin’s toughest critics on Capitol Hill says Jackson could face a bumpy ride.
Republican Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, one of the lawmakers who had called for Shulkin’s removal, told CNN’s “New Day” that to succeed at VA, Jackson would need to “clean house.”
“This is an organization that’s over half the size of the United States Army,” Coffman said. “Unless he’s going be tough, nothing’s going to change.”
Asked whether he believed Jackson needed management experience, he said, “it certainly helps,” but added that Shulkin was an experienced manager and failed at the job.
“It’s gonna be tough,” he added. “I’ll be frank with you, the odds are not with him.”
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