Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Thursday that political chaos in the agency, largely sparked by the fight over privatization of veterans services, played a role in President Donald Trump’s decision to remove him from the job.
The president announced Wednesday that he was replacing Shulkin — an Obama administration holdover who opposed the complete privatization of veterans’ health care and other services — with the White House physician, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson.
Shulkin blamed the internal push for privatization in the months leading up to his departure on Trump political appointees, claiming the officials “have agendas of their own” and saw Shulkin as a threat. He also suggested the appointees weren’t taking direct orders from the president. Shulkin did not specify which appointees he was referencing.
“I just don’t see privatization as a good thing for veterans,” Shulkin said in an interview with the PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff.
“I think that those that are really sticking to a political ideology or are doing this for other reasons, like financial reasons, don’t have the interests of veterans at heart,” he added.
Other highlights from the interview:
- Shulkin called Jackson “a very honorable man,” though he also said he was unfamiliar with Jackson’s policy stances.
“I certainly hope that he’s going to continue the work that I’ve been doing to move the department, to transform it in a better way,” Shulkin said. “And I will certainly do everything that I can to help Dr. Jackson succeed in that role.”
Trump has named a high-level Defense Department official, Robert Wilkie, to run the Department of Veterans Affairs on an acting basis.
- Shulkin also downplayed a report from the department’s inspector general that asserted that he misused government funds for activities during an official trip last year to Europe. He said he repaid the government for the costs that were in dispute.
“I think that this was, really, all about the politics, and really not about the substance of the issue. I certainly take taxpayer dollars very seriously. I have a high level of concern for making sure that we are using our money for veteran issues,” Shulkin said.