President-elect Donald Trump has selected David Shulkin, the current under-secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), to be the next secretary of the VA.
"I have no doubt Dr. Shulkin will be able to lead the turnaround our Department of Veterans Affairs needs," Trump said in a statement, per National Public Radio. "Dr. Shulkin has the experience and the vision to ensure we will meet the healthcare needs of every veteran."
Here are five things you need to know about Shulkin.
1. Shulkin is a certified internist. He went to the Medical College of Pennsylvania for his medical degree, and served as the president of a number of hospitals, including Morristown Medical Center and Beth Israel Medical Center, as well as the chief medical officer of hospitals such as the University of Pennsylvania's hospital and the chairman of medicine at Drexel University's School of Medicine. Shulkin has been ranked "as one of the Top 100 Physician Leaders of Hospitals and Health Systems by Becker’s Hospital Review and one of the '50 Most Influential Physician Executives in the Country' by Modern Healthcare and Modern Physician," according to his biography on the VA's website.
2. If confirmed, Shulkin would be the first VA secretary not to be a veteran. Paul Rieckhoff, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement, "His selection is unprecedented. Our membership overwhelmingly supported the selection of a veteran for this critical leadership position."
Rieckhoff still expressed hope that Shulkin could fix the VA.
"Dr. Shulkin's service as Under Secretary is respected by the entire veterans community," Rieckhoff said. "He is a committed leader and is our best hope among candidates reported in the media to maintain the momentum created by Secretary [Robert] McDonald to reform the VA. We look forward to his confirmation hearing and to providing unique counsel to the President-elect, Congress and the media during the confirmation process and throughout the transition."
3. Veterans groups do seem supportive of Shulkin as VA Secretary. Here are some statements from veterans organizations:
Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, said in a statement: “It is no secret that the VA has been failing veterans for years. 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.”
Louis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, said in an interview that Shulkin has had an open door not just to veterans groups but to his staff at the Veterans Health Administration.
Shulkin’s selection “says to me that Trump has faith in the direction VA is going with health care,” Celli said. “I think this is a huge reality check for a group of people who want to privatize VA.”
4. Shulkin may receive some conservative opposition because he's a holdover from President Barack Obama's administration. Shulkin became the under secretary of the VA in June 2015, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. The problem is that the VA is still facing systemic problems as an agency, leading some to question whether it's smart to have someone from the inside of the VA fix the agency instead of someone from the outside.
"There are so many endemic problems at the VA right now that it doesn’t seem like promoting part of the current bureaucratic machinery to the top is going to fix things," writes Hot Air's Jazz Shaw. "Just yesterday I was talking about the latest scandal at the agency where even more taxpayer money was wasted through either incompetence or corruption. What’s needed is somebody from the outside who has a keen sense of the nation’s responsibility to our veterans and a fresh approach. This slot, perhaps more than all the others, truly is crying out for a new broom to sweep clean. Instead we have Shulkin."
Shaw also pointed out that Shulkin claimed in congressional testimony that criminals that had been working at the VA were no longer employed by the department, but the department later had to admit that Shulkin's claim was wrong, as there was at least one employee that was still employed after coming out of jail due to union rules. What that shows is that Shulkin clearly had a bureaucratic mindset that may not be helpful in fixing the VA.
5. Shulkin has expressed reluctance toward privatizing the VA. "This would be a terrible mistake, a terrible direction for veterans and for the country, to essentially systematically implement recommendations that would lead to the end of the VA health-care system," Shulkin told Virginia's Daily Press when asked about a congressional commission that advocated "for drastically reducing the federal role in veterans’ medical care," according to the Washington Post.
This would seemingly be at odds with Trump, who has called for some form of privatization to fix the VA. It will be interesting to see what exactly will happen with the VA going forward.
Follow Aaron Bandler on Twitter @bandlersbanter.