Monday 17 December 2018

Veteran affairs secretary becomes latest person fired by Donald Trump

David Shulkin has been fired as US veterans affairs secretary (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
David Shulkin has been fired as US veterans affairs secretary (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Hope Yen and Zeke Miller

US President Donald Trump has fired veterans affairs secretary David Shulkin in the wake of a bruising ethics scandal and a mounting rebellion within the agency.

Mr Shulkin is the second cabinet secretary to depart over controversies involving expensive travel, following former health and human services secretary Tom Price's resignation last September.

Mr Trump is nominating Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson to succeed Mr Shulkin, a former Obama administration official and the first non-veteran ever to head the VA.

Mr Jackson has served since 2013 as the physician to the president, and gained a national profile earlier this year for holding a sweeping press conference on the president's health.

Mr Trump has selected Robert Wilkie, the under secretary of defence for personnel and readiness, to serve as the acting head of the VA.

It is the government's second largest department, responsible for nine million military veterans in more than 1,700 government-run health facilities.

The selection of Mr Wilkie bypasses VA deputy secretary Tom Bowman, who has come under criticism for being too moderate to push Mr Trump's agenda of fixing veterans' care.

Mr Shulkin had continued to insist he had the full confidence of the White House amid continuing investigations over his travel and leadership of the department.

He had agreed to reimburse the government more than 4,000 dollars after the VA's internal watchdog concluded last month that he had improperly accepted Wimbledon tennis tickets and that his then-chief of staff had doctored emails to justify his wife travelling to Europe with him at taxpayer expense.

Mr Shulkin also blamed internal drama at the agency on a half-dozen or so political appointees who were rebelling against him and Bowman, insisting he had White House backing to fire them.

It was the latest in a series of departures for top administration officials, including secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who was fired by Mr Trump earlier this month.

The sudden departure comes as Mr Trump is seeking to expand the Veterans Choice programme, a campaign promise that major veterans' groups worry could be an unwanted step towards privatising VA health care.

His plan remains in limbo after Congress declined last week to include it in a spending bill.

Having pushed through legislation in Mr Trump's first year making it easier to fire bad VA employees and speed disability appeals, Mr Shulkin leaves behind a department in disarray.

Several projects remain unfinished, including a multibillion-dollar overhaul of electronic medical records aimed at speeding up waiting times for veterans seeking medical care as well as expanded mental health treatment for veterans at higher risk of suicide.

Press Association

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