WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - After weeks of uncertainty atop the Department of Veterans Affairs, US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday (March 28) he plans to replace its secretary, David J. Shulkin, with Dr Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician and a rear admiral in the Navy.
The announcement punctuated what has been a sharp fall from favor for Shulkin, a politically moderate former hospital executive, who delivered Trump a string of bipartisan legislative victories at a time when he was struggling to find them. And it adds to a significant shake-up of Trump's senior staff, which has already included the secretary of state, director of the CIA and the president's national security adviser.
Trump called Jackson "highly respected" and thanked Shulkin for "service to our country and to our great veterans." Trump said that Robert Wilkie, the undersecretary for defense personnel and readiness at the Defense Department, would serve as acting secretary in the meantime, bypassing the department's deputy secretary, Thomas G. Bowman.
Shulkin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
As secretary, Shulkin helped guide into law measures meant to improve services for the more than 20 million veterans in the United States. Those included an expansion of the GI 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.
In recent months, a group of conservative Trump administration appointees at the White House and the department began to break with the secretary and plot his ouster. At issue was how far and how fast to privatise health care under the department's health system, a long-sought goal for conservatives.
The officials - who included Shulkin's press secretary and assistant secretary for communications, along with a top White House domestic policy aide - came to consider Shulkin, who had run the health program under President Barack Obama, and his top deputy as obstacles to one of the administration's policy goals.
The secretary's troubles only grew when what had been an internal power struggle burst into the open in February, after the department's inspector general issued a scathing report describing "serious derelictions" related to a trip Shulkin took last year to Britain and Denmark. The report found that the secretary had spent much of the trip sightseeing and improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets as a gift.