OUSTED VETERANS AFFAIRS Secretary David Shulkin blasted a “toxic, chaotic, disrespectful and subversive” Washington environment for costing him his job. No doubt there is some truth to his critique of Washington’s political climate, but if Dr. Shulkin wants to place blame for his downfall he need look no further than the mirror. His arrogant misuse of taxpayers’ money undermined efforts to reform the agency and gave ammunition to those who sought his removal.
He is far from a victim. That designation unfortunately goes to veterans who look to his troubled department for vital services, and in many cases have been underserved. The dysfunction makes it all the more important to determine if the person named by President Trump to lead the agency, White House physician Ronny L. Jackson, is up to the job.
Dr. Shulkin’s dismissal, announced Wednesday, was the latest in an administrative shake-up that has included changes for the secretary of state, the national security adviser and CIA director. A holdover from the Obama administration who won unanimous Senate confirmation, Dr. Shulkin was once seen as a favorite of the administration, particularly after he helped secure bipartisan legislative wins on issues such as streamlining the appeals process for veterans seeking disability benefits and making it easier to fire bad employees.
But a scathing report by the agency’s inspector general detailing use of $122,334 to help underwrite European travel and sightseeing for Dr. Shulkin and his wife — and his attempts to deflect blame — tarnished his credentials and impaired his ability to be effective. Despite the Trump administration’s high tolerance for Cabinet secretaries and other senior staff living large on the taxpayers’ dime, critics of Dr. Shulkin who differed with him on policy issues skillfully took advantage of his missteps.
The challenges that will face Dr. Jackson, if he is confirmed, are significant and have long vexed both Democratic and Republican administrations. Dr. Jackson, a career Navy officer who came into the public spotlight with his disarming discussion of Mr. Trump’s annual physical, has no real experience managing a large bureaucracy. That has rightly prompted concerns about his ability to lead the federal government’s second-largest department, with some 377,000 employees and more than 1,200 health-care facilities.
Hard questions about whether Dr. Jackson’s résumé qualifies him to do this job need to be asked at Senate confirmation hearings. There also should be scrutiny of his plans for the agency, specifically his views on the controversial issue of the privatization of VA services. If it is to make good on its members’ frequent promises to the men and women who have served the country, the Senate must take seriously its responsibility to advise and consent on the next VA secretary. It should not rubber-stamp an appointee who makes the president feel comfortable.