Shake-Up at the VA – Helpful or Harmful?

Earlier this year we started to see news stories about the Inspector General’s investigation into then-VA Secretary David Shulkin’s improper use of government funds during a trip to Europe, and misleading the VA about the trip. At first, the Trump administration backed Secretary Shulkin, one of the few Obama administration hold-overs. However, this past Wednesday, President Trump dismissed Secretary Shulkin, and nominated the White House physician, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, to replace him.

As the New York Times reported, “Dr. Shulkin… had begun to make headway on some of the department’s most persistent problems. Those included an expansion of the G.I. Bill for post-9/11 veterans, legislation that makes it easier for the department to remove bad employees and a law that streamlines the appeals process for veterans seeking disability benefits. Those successes and his easy grasp of complicated policy issues won Dr. Shulkin deep support on Capitol Hill and among veterans groups.” Though these policy changes initially won Dr. Shulkin the favor of President Trump, recently some Trump appointees have taken issue with Dr. Shulkin’s resistance to privatizing health care for veterans.

The Privatization Debate

On the day he was fired by President Trump, the New York Times published an Op-Ed by Dr. Shulkin, arguing that privatization of the VA health care system was “a terrible idea” and “a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”  Many veterans’ groups also oppose the privatization of the VA’s health care system (Veterans For Peace, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America). And in 2017, the veterans’ group Disabled American Veterans (DAV) conducted a survey which found that “The vast majority of veterans (87%) believe the federal government should provide a health care system dedicated to the needs of ill, injured and wounded veterans. But 50% do not believe the government is living up to its promise of providing quality, accessible health care to veterans.”

However, Concerned Veterans for America, a veterans’ group supported by the Koch brothers, supports expanding veterans’ health care options in the private marketplace. The Washington Post covered CVA’s proposal in this article, noting that calling CVA’s position a plan to privatize the VA is misleading rhetoric. Opponents claim that the CVA’s plan, while not calling for complete privatization, will lead to the wholesale privatization of the VA health care system.

Controversy over Shulkin’s replacement

Rear Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, Trump’s pick to replace Shulkin, is a career naval officer who was selected in 2006 as a White House physician. According to his Navy biography, at the time he was selected, he was serving as “the emergency medicine physician in charge of resuscitative medicine for a forward deployed Surgical Shock Trauma Platoon in Taqaddum, Iraq.” Dr. Jackson has served as the White House physician for President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, and President Donald Trump. Though he is considered a fairly nonpartisan pick, he has received some controversy over his recent report on President Trump’s health. Nevertheless, one main issue causing concern now that he is picked as Shulkin’s replacement, is his lack of experience running a large bureaucracy, and that he is largely an unknown quantity.

The Future of the VA

Though there is some controversy over exactly why Shulkin was fired, at the end of the day, Shulkin is gone, Jackson is his named replacement, and the debate over privatization continues. So, what’s next?

Where do you think the VA will go? Where do you think it should go?

How do you think this change in leadership impacts efforts to improve the VA?

Author: Kathryn L. Blevins, Esq.

Attorney. Small business owner. Military family. I am the owner and attorney at Blevins Law, LLC. My firm focuses on Social Security disability claims (SSI and SSDI), Veterans' Disability Compensation, Advance Medical Directives and medical and financial powers of attorney. I also assist veterans assessing other types of VA benefits they may be eligible for. I am licensed in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and am a VA Accredited Attorney. I am the proud wife of an Army veteran, and the proud mother of two amazing children and three rescued fur children.

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