President Donald Trump said he will replace veterans affairs secretary David Shulkin with Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, the presidential physician, in the latest administration shake-up.
Mr Shulkin’s ouster comes amid a wave of resignations and dismissals in the Trump team’s senior ranks, following the departures of economic adviser Gary Cohn, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and secretary of state Rex Tillerson, all of which have been announced this month.
Mr Shulkin, 58, a doctor and former hospital administrator, took office in February 2017 following a unanimous vote by the Senate. He was the sole holdover in the Cabinet from the Obama administration. He served as undersecretary for health overseeing medical facilities run by the VA, which provides care for more than 9 million enrolled veterans.
He had been under fire for a European trip that included a tennis outing at Wimbledon, accounts of troubling conditions at medical facilities, reports of tension with his senior staff, and friction over plans to shift care to the private sector.
The president announced the change in a series of tweets.
“I am pleased to announce that I intend to nominate highly respected Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD, as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs,” Trump said. “I am thankful for Dr. David Shulkin’s service to our country and to our GREAT VETERANS!”
Notable firings and resignations from President Donald Trump’s White House since he took office on January 20, 2017
— March 28: Veterans Affairs Secretary, David Shulkin
— March 22: National security adviser, HR McMaster
— March 13: Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson
— March 12: Special assistant and personal aide to the president, John McEntee
— March 6: Economic adviser, Gary Cohn
— February 28: Communications director, Hope Hicks
— February 27: Deputy communications director, Josh Raffel
— February 7: Staff secretary, Rob Porter
— December 13, 2017: Communications director for the White House Office of Public Liaison, Omarosa Manigault Newman
— December 8, 2017: Deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell
— September 29, 2017: Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price
— August 25, 2017: National security aide, Sebastian Gorka
— August 18, 2017: Chief strategist, Steve Bannon
— July 31, 2017: Communications director, Anthony Scaramucci
— July 28, 2017: Chief of staff, Reince Priebus
— July 21, 2017: Press secretary, Sean Spicer
— May 30, 2017: Communications director, Michael Dubke
— May 9, 2017: FBI director, James Comey
— March 30, 2017: Deputy chief of staff, Katie Walsh
— February 13, 2017: National security adviser, Michael Flynn
Mr Jackson, a naval officer, has been a White House physician since George W Bush’s presidency. His nomination will require Senate approval.
He conducted the president’s first official medical exam as president in January and declared Mr Trump “fit for duty.”
Questions about Mr Trump’s fitness for office had flared at the time after a book – Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff – had asserted that many of his senior aides thought the president mentally unwell. Admiral Jackson reported that a screening of the president’s cognitive function, designed to check for signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, was normal.
Mr Shulkin came into office with a pledge to bring greater accountability to the agency and to improve veterans’ access to care, and not to privatise the department.
In July 2017, he travelled to Denmark and England with his wife and a six-member security detail, according to a February report by the agency’s inspector general. The 11-day trip included three and a half days of official events and cost at least $122,334, the report said. It found that Shulkin improperly accepted two tickets to the ladies’ final match at Wimbledon.
He told lawmakers that he regretted decisions “that have been made that have taken the focus off” the VA’s work, and said he would reimburse costs as recommended by the inspector general, who called for repayments for the Wimbledon tickets and the airfare for the secretary’s wife.
Mr Shulkin’s trip was among several involving top administration officials to draw notice. Environmental protection agency administrator Scott Pruitt relied on first-class flights, racking up a $1,641.43 bill for a trip between Washington and New York, and health and human services secretary Tom Price stepped down over flights with a total cost that exceeded $1 million.
The report of Mr Shulkin’s travel stoked tensions within the agency, and he reduced contacts with Mr Trump’s political appointees and installed an armed guard outside his office, according to a March 9 report in the Washington Post.
On March 7, the VA inspector general released a report that said “failures in leadership” led to critical deficiencies at the agency’s Washington medical centre, where inventories weren’t properly maintained and patient records weren’t securely stored. At times, doctors had to borrow supplies from a nearby hospital, according to the report. Shulkin told interviewers he didn’t recall senior officials bringing the centre’s problems to his attention when he was undersecretary overseeing medical facilities, according to the report.