Policy

Trump picks David Shulkin, an Obama appointee, to run VA

In naming a new secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, President-elect Donald Trump has done something he had previously avoided while filling out his Cabinet: choose an insider. The pick also is notable because Shulkin is an Obama administration appointee.

Dr. David Shulkin (center) tours the Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia on July 10, 2015. Shulkin is President-elect Donald Trump's pick to be VA secretary.

Dr. David Shulkin (center) tours the Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia on July 10, 2015. Shulkin is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be VA secretary.

In naming a new secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, President-elect Donald Trump has done something he had previously avoided while filling out his Cabinet: pick an insider. Trump on Wednesday named current VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin to lead the entire department.

The pick also is notable because Shulkin is an Obama administration appointee. In 2015, President Barack Obama chose Shulkin, an internist, to lead the Veterans Health Administration in the wake of a mismanagement scandal and burgeoning wait times at VA hospitals and clinics.

“President-elect Trump’s commitment to caring for our veterans is unquestionable, and he is eager to support the best practices for care and provide our Veterans Affairs’ teams with the resources they need to improve health outcomes,” Shulkin said in a press release from the presidential transition team. “We are both eager to begin reforming the areas in our Veterans Affairs system that need critical attention, and do it in a swift, thoughtful and responsible way.”

Trump had some sober words for Shulkin in the same press release, but where’s the fun in that? The president-elect was his usual, bombastic, meandering self during his televised press conference Wednesday morning, and discussed the VA at length before he took questions from reporters.

Trump twice referred to the Department of Veterans Affairs as the “Veterans Administration,” a name that hasn’t been used officially since the Reagan administration. And he filled his off-the-cuff responses with hyperbole, as usual.

“Tell you about David — he’s fantastic. He’s fantastic. He will do a truly great job,” Trump began, after announcing Shulkin’s nomination. Shulkin beat out more than 100 candidates, Trump said during his press conference.

“Our veterans have been treated horribly. They’re waiting in line for 15, 16, 17 days. Cases where they go on in and they have a minor early-stage form of cancer and they can’t see a doctor; by the time they get to the doctor, they’re terminal. It’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen,” the president-elect said, according to an annotated transcript compiled by NPR.

Trump also dropped news that his administration would have the VA consult with private healthcare systems, though he didn’t offer too many details.

“So David is going to do a fantastic job. We’re going to be talking to a few people also to help David, and we have some of the great hospitals of the world going to align themselves with us on the Veterans Administration [sic], like the Cleveland Clinic. Like the Mayo Clinic, a few more that we have. And we’re going to set up a group. These are hospitals that have been the top of the line. The absolute top of the line,” Trump continued.

Trump name-checked Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove, whom he briefly considered for for VA secretary, as well as Ike Perlmutter. Though he is the CEO of Marvel Entertainment — yep, the comics company — Perlmutter has been advising Trump on veterans’ issues.

Trump did not say what makes a hospital “top of the line,” which could be troubling. Even though quality reporting has been around for decades, outcomes measurement is still somewhat in its infancy, and major teaching institutions have been able to skate by on their reputations.

But, for example, Consumer Reports recently cited the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital for high rates of clostridium difficile infections. Also making that list was the vaunted Cleveland Clinic.

Buckle up, this is going to be a bumpy ride.

Photo: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs