On Wednesday, March 28th, President Donald Trump fired David Shulkin, former Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”). By the end of the day, President Trump sent a tweet announcing that Shulkin will be replaced by the White House physician, Ronny L. Jackson.
While Shulkin Supports Jackson, He Fears the Toxic Political Environment at the VA Will
Some are skeptical of Jackson, who, during a recent report on the president’s annual medical exam, glossed over the president’s high cholesterol and borderline obesity in a seemingly forced effort to declare that the president is in “excellent health.” However, Shulkin has mustered support, describing Jackson as “an honorable man” and “a great patriot.” Shulkin does worry, however, that the sudden change in leadership may be the product of the toxic political environment at the VA.
Throughout Shulkin’s tenure, he felt consistently undermined by the political appointees working in the VA. The source of the tension was an ongoing battle between those who, like Shulkin, wanted to strengthen the VA, and those who, like most of the appointees around him, wanted to push towards privatization.
Shulkin Sees Privatization as a Danger to Veterans
In an Op-ed for the New York Times, Shulkin stated that he is "convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans." He blames the push towards privatization on the nation-wide political polarization which has creeped its way into the VA, and sees the VA as “entangled in a brutal power struggle” which has taken precedence over the needs of the veterans the department is meant to serve.
Shulkin explains that moving towards privatization simply won’t work for veterans: the private sector does not have the resources to deal with the number of veterans who need care or the complexity of those veterans’ health care needs. Only a strengthened VA, which can focus all its energy and resources on the experiences of veterans, can provide meaningful remedies to the unique physical and mental ailments experienced by our nation’s heroes.
Despite Struggles, Shulkin Remains Committed to Bettering the VA
Shulkin did a lot for the VA with very little in return. While serving as Secretary, he implemented the highly successful Veterans’ White House Complaint Hotline, improved access to mental-health services, reformed the disability-benefits appeals process, and reduced unemployment among veterans.
Yet, when it came time to replace Shulkin, President Trump didn’t give him any warning or explanation. In fact, Shulkin spoke on the phone with President Trump the same day that he was fired, but President Trump gave no indication that he was considering a change in leadership. It’s no wonder that Shulkin’s New York Times piece ended on this somber note: “As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought: It should not be this hard to serve your country.”
Despite his mistreatment, Shulkin remains committed to the VA. With a refreshing sense of perspective and clarity, he stated, “We can only expect our sons and daughters to risk their lives and fight for our freedom if we can keep our promise to care for them when they return home broken, injured or traumatized.”
How You Can Get the Benefits You Need
We sincerely hope that the change in VA leadership does not have a negative impact on veterans’ access to disability benefits, but, if it does, we are here to help fight back and hold the VA accountable, just as we have been for over 20 years.
If you are a veteran with a service-connected disability, we encourage you to apply for benefits right away. After all, you served, and you deserve your benefits. If you receive, or have already received, a denial or an unacceptable rating decision, we are here to help. Send us a note or give us a call at (877) 629-1712 to see if your case is a good fit for an appeal. And, remember, we work on a contingency-fee basis, so there is nothing stopping you from fighting for the benefits you are entitled to.