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Reform Coming to the VA, Whether It Wants This or Not

Monday April 2nd, 2018   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:45am PDT   •  

New scandals continue to erupt at the troubled U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on a regular basis, where in the latest gyration, David Shulkin, the head of the VA who had promised to implement serious reforms to improve the accountability of the department’s supervisors and staff, has now been shown the exit door.

President Trump fired his embattled Veterans Affairs secretary Wednesday and tapped as his replacement atop the chronically mismanaged agency the president’s personal physician, who gained prominence with his effusive praise of the 71-year-old’s physical and mental health.

The ouster of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who has been mired in scandal over his charging taxpayers for luxury travel expenses and the infighting among his senior aides, had been widely expected and was made official at 5:31 p.m. by presidential tweet.

Trump said he would nominate Ronny L. Jackson, 50, an active-duty rear admiral in the Navy who has served for the past three administrations as a White House physician.

Shulkin had been occupying the VA’s executive suite on borrowed time ever since the agency’s Office of Inspector General revealed that the VA had funded an unusual travel junket for him and his wife to Europe at taxpayer expense. Shulkin had claimed that he was the victim of “subversion” from within the scandal-plagued federal government department, where he indicated that he had Trump administration approval to “clean house of insiders at the VA who sought to take him down.” Shulkin had even gone so far as to have an armed guard stationed outside his office.

At the time, MyGovCost noted “that mandate would now be held by either Shulkin or his replacement should the travel scandal prove to claim his career in public service at the VA.”

That replacement is Rear Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, who has served as the White House’s physician under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Rory E. Riley-Topping, a veterans advocate who is seeking to reform the VA, described how difficult that may be in a recent op-ed in The Hill:

The number one question reverberating throughout the veterans’ community right now is whether Admiral Ronny Jackson is qualified to be the next secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This begs the question, what exactly qualifies one to lead the nation’s second largest government agency?

Unfortunately, no one knows yet. The VA has been plagued by controversy since its elevation to a cabinet Department in 1988. Not a single VA secretary has won universal praise from veterans, stakeholders and Congress for the duration of their term. And, more importantly, not a single VA secretary has successfully shown the ability to eliminate the toxic culture that permeates from within the bureaucracy.

To date, there have been nine VA Secretaries that have received Senate confirmation. Of those nine, with the exception of David Shulkin, the only common denominator seems to be military service….

More importantly, however, is that seven of the nine ultimately resigned due to scandal or frustration with the agency. The only two to serve out the remainder of their term until a change in the administration — Peake and McDonald — served only two and two and a half years, respectively.

As a job, it may very well be several orders of magnitude more difficult than dealing with President Trump. And it’s not going to get any easier until the VA is reformed to eliminate the culture of corruption that has become institutionalized throughout the 360,000 employee department that has an annual budget of $186 billion. The “extraordinary rebellion” against the reforms that Shulkin was seeking to implement must come to an end, the employees of the VA must become fully accountable to both U.S. taxpayers and to the veterans they claim to serve.

Should Admiral Jackson prove to be unequal to the task, the mandate for cleaning house will pass to his replacement. And so it must go until the VA’s corrupt culture has been cleaned out, whether the VA wants it to be, or not.

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April 2018