In his press conference on Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump announced his selection for U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs. He chose the current undersecretary of the department, David Shulkin.
“We’re going to straighten out the VA for our veterans,” Trump declared. “Because our veterans have been treated very unfairly.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has fallen under fire in the past three years, for its record of shoddy care, long lines, and rampant corruption. The horror stories keep on coming: In November, an Iraq veteran committed suicide after the VA told him he’d have to wait months for treatment. In May, the current VA secretary, Robert McDonald, dismissed long wait times by comparing them to ride lines at Disney. In October, a veteran died with maggots in his wound at the VA, causing four employees to resign.
As a result of these horror stories, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a nonprofit group focused on VA reform, denounced the problem as cultural, and called for more health care choices for veterans and more accountability for staff at the VA.
“It is no secret that the VA has been failing veterans for years,” CVA Executive Director Mark Lucas said in a statement following Trump’s announcement. “While Shulkin already holds a leadership position at the VA, as Secretary, he will now have ultimate responsibility over the agency and we are hopeful he will take it in a new direction. CVA will seek to partner with Shulkin on urgently needed reforms, such as empowering veterans to access care outside the VA when the VA is failing them.”
“We are cautiously optimistic that Shulkin will turn things around and we want to give the Trump administration the opportunity to partner with us on choice and accountability reforms,” an anonymous source at CVA told PJ Media. “It must be noted, though, how horribly the VA has done under McDonald. So we hope Shulkin brings a fresh start now that he is in full control.”
So who is Shulkin? Here are 5 things you should know about Trump’s VA pick.
1. He is a medical doctor.
Shulkin graduated with an M.D. from the Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1986, and did his internship at Yale School of Medicine. He completed his residency and fellowship in general medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Presbyterian Medical Center. He served as chief medical officer for multiple hospitals and hospital systems.
2. He was appointed by Obama.
Shulkin was nominated for undersecretary of health at the VA by President Obama in March, 2015. He would be the first member of the Obama administration chosen by President-elect Trump to join the new administration. He was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in June 2015, a sign that he might be Trump’s first uncontroversial pick as well.
3. He was a successful businessman.
Shulkin is an entrepreneur. He founded a health care information company called DoctorQuality. When he joined the VA, he resigned from a private-sector position with an annual salary of $1.3 million, and now only makes $170,000 a year at the VA.
4. He is not a veteran.
Notably, Shulkin has never served in the military, although he has an extensive record in health care. As NPR’s Quil Lawrence reported in December, the VA has always been headed by a veteran. He will be the first non-veteran VA secretary.
5. He has presided over the VA scandal.
For good or ill, Shulkin’s tenure at the Department of Veterans Affairs has continued to be plagued by scandal. It is possible he would champion reforms to allow veterans more choice in health care, and that he might turn around the culture of unaccountability which plagues the VA, but scandals have continued under his watch. In January 2016, Shulkin launched a “VA Shark Tank” to target innovations and improvements to the VA medical centers. Still, it seems the fundamental problems are persisting.
Shulkin will have his work cut out for him if he takes over from McDonald.