Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., told lawmakers Thursday he deeply regrets the distractions caused by headlines over turmoil within the department and an inspector general report that criticized his use of taxpayer money to partially fund a European trip that mixed government business with pleasure.
Shulkin’s remorse comes in the wake of rumors that President Donald Trump is fed up over the negative publicity and considering firing him. Earlier this week, Trump met with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and there was speculation he was in line to replace Shulkin. But Perry told reporters he is not interested in the job, according to The Hill.
Although USA Today reports White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday that Trump has not made a decision on the future of Shulkin, unnamed sources told Townhall that Trump is interested in replacing him with Pete Hegseth, the weekend host for Fox and Friends and a U.S. Army veteran who served in Irag and Afghanistan.
Sanders said Thursday the administration is looking at how it can improve the VA system, “whether it’s through policy changes or personnel changes, not just at the top level but across the board,” according to USA Today.
During a House appropriations subcommittee hearing on Thursday, Shulkin was regretful over the distractions at the agency. However, he said the department is getting back on track and his sole focus is to improve the lives of veterans, according to The Hill’s coverage of the hearing.
“I’ve made it clear to everybody in my department that I have no tolerance for anything other than the business that have to do for VA,” Shulkin said at the hearing. “I believe that we are getting back on track with that, and I’m going to do everything I can to keep our focus on the work that we have to do because there’s a lot of work to do, as you mentioned, that impacts people’s lives.”
But the White House Thursday declined to offer an endorsement of Shulkin, according to U.S. News. Sanders said Trump has many individuals who are working to help veterans and the administration is reviewing what it can do to improve the system.
Despite the drama within the agency, leading veteran groups have expressed support for Shulkin. And in an opinion piece for USA Today, Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS, said it would be a mistake for Trump to fire Shulkin, whom he says has moved the agency forward after years of problems.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs is on the best track it has seen in the last decade,” Chenelly wrote, addressing Trump. “To make a leadership change at this point by removing Dr. Shulkin would be indefensible and, simply put, a bad business move. Destabilizing the VA is no way to thank veterans for their service and should not be a legacy you want attached to your administration.”