It was announced last week that the president’s nominee for Secretary of the VA, Dr. Ronny Jackson was withdrawing from consideration amid a slew of accusations of misconduct.
For his part, Dr. Jackson categorically denies the accusations, and the White House has been supportive of “Doc Ronny.” But the withdrawal of Dr. Jackson does leave the question of who will fill the seat left vacant by the sudden departure of Dr. Shulkin last month and who is responsible for investigating claims of wrong doing.
In a statement Wednesday amid speculation of Jackson’s withdrawal, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said “Given his unique position of trust and responsibility, Dr. Jackson’s background and character were evaluated during three different administrations."
“Dr. Jackson has had at least four independent background investigations conducted during his time at the White House, including an FBI investigation conducted as part of the standard nomination vetting process."
“During each of those investigations, Dr. Jackson received unanimous praise from dozens of witnesses, and the investigations revealed no areas of concern,” she said.
President Trump thinks that this is a Democratic witch hunt aimed at derailing his vision for the VA and his administration in general saying that Dr. Jackson would have been “a great VA secretary” and “obstructionist Democrats” were to blame for the scandal.
When announcing his withdrawal on Thursday, Dr. Jackson said:
“Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity.
The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated. If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years.”
Jackson was up for a promotion; however, that is now on hold.
The accusations against Dr. Jackson include inappropriate handling of prescription medication, earning him the nickname “the Candyman,” multiple incidents of drunkenness while on duty, including wrecking a government vehicle, and a hostile work environment.
Jackson denies all these allegations, but members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee said that there were almost two dozen people corroborating the claims, calling for a full investigation.
Complicating the issue is murky oversight of the medical operations within the White House. When initially queried, the Navy referred reporters to the White House, saying they don’t know who has the authority to conduct an investigation or reprimand Dr. Jackson.
The White House medical unit does not report to the president’s chief of staff as other staffers do. Instead, they report to a little-known military unit called the White House Military Office.
When a complaint was lodged of a hostile work environment in 2012, an investigation was conducted through the Navy’s Inspector General’s office and found no wrong doing on Jackson’s part. However, his superior officer was reprimanded at the time. Investigators looking into these new allegations could go back and reexamine those claims as well.
So now that Jackson is out of the running, he has returned to the White House medical office, with the full support of the Trump family.
“Admiral Ronny Jackson is a man of exceptional integrity, character and intellect,” Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser at the White House, tweeted on Thursday. “We are grateful for his long and distinguished service to our Nation and look forward to continuing to see his warm smile each day at the White House!”
But that still leaves the question of who is going to head the VA. President Trump is not known for doing what people expect, as is evidenced by the selection of Dr. Jackson. However, there is a short list of candidates to keep an eye on.
The most obvious choice would be Robert Wilkie. Why, you ask? Well, because he’s already doing the job.
Wilkie was named acting director upon Shulkin’s departure while Jackson went thru the confirmation process and does have the managerial experience needed to run the department. He is the Department of Defense Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness and generally seems to do a good job in the role.
Just before it was announced that Jackson was withdrawing, VA press secretary Curt Cashour released a statement saying:
“Under VA’s new leadership, which is now firmly aligned with President Trump and his priorities, the department’s operations have improved in many ways.
Under Acting Secretary Wilkie’s leadership, senior VA officials are now on the same page, speaking with one voice to Veterans, employees and outside stakeholders, such as Congress and veterans service organizations, and are focused on a number of key priorities in the short term.”
Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s name has once again been circulated. Perry had refused the job, but some speculate that he might reconsider now. Perry has previously said he favors more privatization of healthcare within the VA, but has otherwise been relatively controversy free.
Pete Hegseth’s name has been floated as well, though his connection to the Koch brothers would be a tough sell to some in Congress. The young Iraq war veteran has been an unofficial adviser to the president and it is speculated that the relationship is what led to the falling out between the president and Dr. Shulkin.
But of course, the president could once again choose a complete unknown; he’s good at playing the wildcard and surprising everyone so stay tuned. However, it’s hoped that this time, whoever the president chooses is equal to the task ahead and light on scandals and drama.