- Joshua Roberts/Reuters
- David Shulkin was removed by President Donald Trump as chief of the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday.
- Shulkin was embroiled in disputes with political appointees within the department.
- Shulkin says his ouster was politically motivated as he resisted efforts to privatize the department’s services.
The recently fired secretary of veterans affairs, David Shulkin, took the Trump administration to task Wednesday in a New York Times op-ed article that outlined pressure he said he faced from advocates of privatizing the Department of Veterans Affairs’ health services.
Those advocates, Shulkin says, pushed for his removal because of his objection to such privatization, despite marked improvements made in VA services during his tenure.
“We have expanded access to healthcare by reducing wait times, increasing productivity and working more closely with the private sector,” Shulkin wrote of his time at the VA. “We have put in place more and better mental-health services for those suffering from the invisible wounds of war. We are now processing more disability claims and appeals than ever before and, for the first time, allowing veterans to see the status of their appeals by simply logging on to their accounts.”
He noted that 70% of veterans had regained trust in the VA, up from 46% who said the same four years ago.
But, he added, “It seems that these successes within the department have intensified the ambitions of people who want to put VA healthcare in the hands of the private sector.”
The private sector already struggles to provide healthcare to many Americans, Shulkin said, and would be ill-equipped to handle the number and complexity of cases that would come from the VA. While it’s a good idea to work with private providers, he wrote, “privatization leading to the dismantling of the department’s extensive healthcare system is a terrible idea.”
- REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Those backing privatization “saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” Shulkin wrote. “That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”
Shulkin, an Obama appointee confirmed by a 100-0 vote in the Senate, had become ensnared in what appeared to be a power struggle within the VA in recent months, generating negative publicity that reportedly dismayed President Donald Trump, who once held Shulkin in high regard.
Shulkin was criticized for a 10-day trip to Copenhagen and London, during which he improperly accepted tickets to a Wimbledon tennis match. The Washington Post also found that the government paid for Shulkin’s wife to travel with him.
Emails obtained by The Post show senior VA aides bristling over Shulkin’s resistance to efforts to expand the amount of care veterans could get from private doctors and openly discussing his removal. Sources also told The Post that one of Shulkin’s senior aides lobbied an influential Capitol Hill staff member to call for Shulkin’s removal.
- REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Shulkin also reportedly clashed with political appointees tied to Concerned Veterans for America, a lobbying group that is linked to the Koch brothers, who are billionaire conservative donors.
A prominent critic of Shulkin was Pete Hegseth, an Iraq War veteran who cohosts “Fox & Friends” and has become close to Trump, advising the president on veterans issues.
Hegseth has called for a veterans healthcare system with less government presence and more private-sector involvement.
Trump reportedly considered Hegseth for the VA role after his election, at which time Hegseth said he would “of course” accept. This week, however, Trump selected White House doctor and Navy Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson to replace Shulkin.
In his op-ed article, Shulkin said he had been “falsely accused of things by people who wanted me out of the way” but remained proud of his accomplishments at the VA and would continue to counter those he said wanted to undermine the VA “by putting their personal agendas in front of the well-being of our veterans.”
“As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought,” he concluded. “It should not be this hard to serve your country.”