On Wednesday night, Trump announced his plan to replace outgoing Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin with White House physician, Rear Admiral Ronnie Jackson. The move was highly unanticipated, and caught both Republicans and Democrats off guard.
While the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, whose recommendation Jackson will need to be approved by the Senate responded with a bland press release, the reaction among veteran’s groups has been more mixed.
The Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), who have supported Trump through his campaign, pointed out that Jackson brings key insight to the job. “We are pleased that he is a combat veteran with firsthand knowledge of the trauma of war, and as such, will understand what our veterans need,” said the VVA National President John Rowan.
However, several veterans groups expressed concern about Jackson’s qualifications, saying that -while they don’t oppose the nomination – they have serious questions before they could give their endorsement of Trump’s newest pick.
“We look forward to understanding more about the qualifications of Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD to helm the VA during this critical time,” said Carl Blake, the Executive Director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, in a statement. “The VA has a broad mission and the secretary must be someone who is eminently qualified to lead the nation’s second largest cabinet agency.”
“I am deeply concerned about the nominee,” said the AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly in a statement, and added “Veterans’ lives depend on this decision, and the Trump administration needs to substantiate that this active-duty Navy officer is qualified to run a $200 billion bureaucracy, the second largest agency in the government.”
Many veterans groups, and politicians from both parties poured lavish praise on the outgoing Shulkin, for the work he did while Secretary of the VA. Among politicians, there seems to be no ideological consensus on Jackson’s nomination just yet – with many of them expressing a desire to learn more about the obscure nominee.
“I look forward to meeting Admiral Jackson and learning more about him,” was one such statement by Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).
Senate Veteran’s Affairs Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), also looks “forward to meeting Admiral Jackson soon and seeing if he is up to the job.”
Jackson who was a Navy doctor, became a White House physician in 2006, and was promoted in 2013 by former President Barack Obama who made him the physician to the President. And in prior weeks, Jackson was nominated by President Trump for a promotion within the Navy.
Jackson is said to have originally started his naval career back in 1995, where he practiced at Portsmouth Navy Medical Center in Virginia. Then in 2005, he was deployed to Taqaddum, Iraq where he served as an emergency physician in the Surgical Shock Trauma Platoon, and was put in charge of resuscitative medicine.
During his service, he received numerous awards, including the Legion of Merit, the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Defense Superior Service Medal.
President Trump said that he has “full confidence” in Jackson, and explained that the reason for his pick is that, this position requires someone who is familiar with healthcare and can relate to veterans.
If Jackson is confirmed for the job, then he will be in charge of 1,700 health-care sites which care for over 9 million veterans annually. Furthermore, he would be handling a budget of nearly $200-billion, and managing 360,000 employees.