“WE WILL take care of our great veterans like they have never been taken care of before.” That promise from Donald Trump after he won his party’s presidential nomination is worth revisiting in light of the debacle (completely of President Trump’s own making) that surrounded the nomination, and subsequent withdrawal from consideration, of White House physician Ronny L. Jackson as veterans affairs secretary.
Facing — for the third time in his presidency — the question of who should lead this critical agency, Mr. Trump needs to recall what is paramount: the welfare of the men and women who have selflessly served their country. This time, it should not be too much to ask that care be taken in selecting a leader with the competence, experience and vision to manage and improve a department that has struggled to meet the needs of veterans.
Certainly, such care did not go into Dr. Jackson’s selection. Even before allegations of professional misconduct surfaced, it was obvious that Dr. Jackson, a U.S. Navy physician who has never managed a large bureaucracy, was not remotely qualified to lead an agency as large and complex as the Department of Veterans Affairs. The only explanation for his selection to replace David Shulkin — himself fired last month following a scandal about his government travel — was the personal affinity he had established with a president who places a premium on loyalty.
The absence of vetting of Dr. Jackson by the White House became painfully apparent when the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee postponed his confirmation hearing, which was supposed to take place Wednesday. The committee needed more time to review negative information it had received after interviewing 23 people, including current and former military personnel, who had worked with him. The allegations — some of which date to Dr. Jackson’s time serving the Obama administration — included improper dispensing of prescription drugs to White House staff, contributing to a hostile work environment and intoxication while traveling with the president.
Dr. Jackson called the allegations “completely false and fabricated.” Senior White House officials indicated they will stand by him and plan to keep him at the White House. Clearly further investigation is warranted. If the charges are not true, Dr. Jackson deserves to have his name cleared. If they are true, he should not be attending the president.
What’s not warranted is the vitriol — and threats — from Mr. Trump about Democratic senators, notably Jon Tester of Montana, ranking member on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, who very appropriately raised concerns. The Senate vetting process was bipartisan, and members of the committee should be applauded for taking seriously their constitutional obligations, particularly in the absence of even minimal vetting by the administration.
Instead of blaming Democrats for his own rashness and incompetence, Mr. Trump should direct his energy toward finding someone, finally, qualified to lead VA.
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