Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., may be the next White House cabinet member shown the door.
Sources tell the Associated Press that President Donald Trump feels Shulkin has become a distraction and is considering replacing him with Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Trump met with Perry on Monday but did not formally offer him the position.
Shulkin has been under fire since mid-February when a Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General report found he misused taxpayer money to pay for his wife’s travel expenses for a trip to Europe last summer. Despite his initial protests that the report was inaccurate, Shulkin agreed to repay the cost of her airplane ticket as well as Wimbledon tickets the couple received as a gift from his wife’s friend.
Since then, Shulkin has made headlines with claims that political appointees within the VA are trying to undermine his authority and the White House gave him approval to purge people within the agency who may be trying to push him out. Reports have since come out that John Ullyot, the Department of Veterans Affairs' assistant secretary for public affairs, asked a senior aide to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to convince legislators to contact the White House and call for Shulkin's ouster.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has called for Shulkin’s resignation twice, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., described the reports of “chaos” at the highest levels of the VA as a “huge disservice to millions of veterans across the country who deserve a department that is fully focused on serving their needs."
And that was before a report last week that VA leaders ignored critical deficiencies at the VA hospital in DC for years and a new VA OIG report released Tuesday that found some VA facilities in the Veterans Integrated Service Network underreported wait times for 38% of new patient appointments.There are also reports that the OIG is conducting an ongoing investigation as to whether Shulkin used his security detail to run personal errands.
The AP article said Shulkin has not helped his cause by ignoring advice from senior administration officials but then asking for their help when faced with ethical problems. The latest troubles come as Trump wants to expand the Veterans Choice program so that veterans can receive care from private providers, a move that major veterans group worry may lead to privatizing VA healthcare.
Meanwhile, leading veterans groups tell CNN that they support Shulkin and still believe White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s assurances in late February that the administration stands behind him. VoteVets told the publication that they are opposed to Perry taking over the position because he has spoken in favor of privatizing veterans care..