Editorials

Trump’s doc shouldn’t be a slam dunk to lead Veterans Affairs

Miami Herald Editorial Board

David Shulkin, former secretary of Veterans Affairs, left office last week after an investigation found that he used public funds for a lavish trip to Europe with his wife, then tried to cover it up.
David Shulkin, former secretary of Veterans Affairs, left office last week after an investigation found that he used public funds for a lavish trip to Europe with his wife, then tried to cover it up. Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has enough problems. It doesn’t need one in the form of a leader who, very possibly, has no idea what he’s doing.

In yet another nomination made under President Trump’s “You’ll do — for now” philosophy of hiring the “very best people,” White House physician Ronny Jackson is up for the vital job of secretary of Veterans Affairs.

If confirmed by the Senate, Jackson will replace David Shulkin, a rare and respected Obama administration holdover who sullied his tenure by not only misusing taxpayers’ funds to take a swell trip to London and Cophenhagen. His wife’s expenses were also paid for by the government. A bit of business, indeed, was done — meetings and such — but then there was the shopping, the castle tours and tickets to the Wimbledon tennis finals, free of charge, in violation of rules that ban gifts to government employees.

Shulkin defended the trip, blamed the media — in this case the Washington Post, which broke the story — and worst of all, lied about it. In addition, he enlisted colleagues to assist in the coverup. According to a VA inspector general’s report, Vivieca Wright Simpson, Shulkin’s chief of staff, rejiggered documents to make it seem as if Shulkin had received an award in Copenhagen. He didn’t. In fact, no such award existed.

Simpson, ahem, has retired. Last week, Shulkin was out, rightly.

In Miami alone, the Veterans Adminstration’s medical facilities do not always measure up, failing the people who have put their lives on the line for this country through military service, but putting those lives in danger again when they need that care back home. In February, an investigation confirmed discrepancies in HIV test results when some veterans were also tested by an outside lab.

Last fall, an inspection found the public cafeteria in Miami’s VA healthcare system egregiously unsanitary — pest droppings, unrefrigerated foods and the like. Though hospitalized vets were not served meals from this cafeteria, the point is that no one should be exposed to the dangers of unclean conditions. And that’s just in one region. The VA is the second-largest department in the federal government, with almost 400,000 employees and more than 1,200 health-care facilities.

President Trump nominated Jackson to replace Shulkin. Jackson’s credentials as a medical doctor are solid. His ability to run this consistently challenged system? Not so much in evidence. In fact, there is little in his professional background that shows he has what it takes to ensure the VA can truly serve its clients. This is one more nomination that should not be rubber-stamped.

The Senate, if it truly cares for the nation’s veterans, will ask Jackson the tough, uncomfortable questions and say No if he’s deemed deficient.

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