Here’s a thought for the Trump administration, while considering who to put over the Department of Veterans Affairs, next.
At least, that’s the advice of veterans groups around the nation.
The various veterans organizations are urging President Trump to find someone qualified to fill the leadership vacuum left by the ousting of David Shulkin.
And no, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson wasn’t their idea of “qualified.”
The collapse of Jackson’s nomination was vexing but totally predictable, multiple veterans advocates told the Washington Examiner. Even before allegations of misconduct were made against him, Democrats and Republicans voiced concerns surrounding his lack of experience.
“We didn’t think it was a good idea for them to just let Secretary Shulkin go,” said Carl Blake, executive director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Then [Rear] Adm. Jackson came out of left field for everybody. Literally everybody.”
The part that seems to be sticking in the craw of the leadership of over a half-dozen veterans groups around Washington, D.C. is that neither the president, nor officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs have sought out their advice or made them a part of the conversation, regarding filling the position of Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Shulkin was ousted after controversy surrounding a taxpayer funded trip to Europe. There was also considerable friction, due to his feet-dragging, regarding expanding care for veterans outside of the VA system.
“Nobody contacted us to discuss nominees. That’s their prerogative, but we represent 2 million American veterans in every legislative district in the country. So I think we’re pretty finely tuned in to how the VA works, and what veterans want,” explained a spokesman for the American Legion.
Ed Zackery, director of an Ohio-based Veterans Service Organization, said his organization has heard from the VA and administration officials “from time to time” on matters related to care for veterans. “But they didn’t reach out to us on this, which we were surprised about,” he said, expressing hope that he might be contacted this time around.
The question of who has the experience and know-how to manage what is the second largest department in our government is now on the table.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has over 360,000 employees and a $200 billion budget. It demands someone with considerable knowledge and experience, as well as a heart to do the work required for our nation’s veterans.
For now, the acting secretary is Robert Wilkie. Many feel he may be offered the job on a permanent basis.
Other names have been floated, however.
Back in March, around the time of Shulkin’s ouster, Energy Department Secretary Rick Perry was a name that came up often.
The former Texas Governor is an Air Force veteran, himself, and is well-known for his efforts on behalf of the nation’s veterans. It’s actually rather unfathomable that he was offered the position as Energy secretary, and not the position with Veterans Affairs, to begin with.
Some are suggesting Perry now, but it’s unclear if that’s who Trump is referring to, when he says he already has someone in mind.
It’s also unlikely that Perry is going to ask for the job.
“The boss likes him a lot, but the boss turned him down for DOD and DHS, so the boss’ affection only goes so far,” said a source close to Perry, who described his current role as “a great retirement gig for the former governor of Texas.”
Tom Pyle, who previously led the Department of Energy’s transition team, said if the president asked Perry to take on the undesirable task of leading the VA, “I suspect he would accept.”
The current VA Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman has been mentioned, as well. He’s a Marine vet and a former aide to Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), but for now, it appears he’s not on Trump’s radar.
We’ll have to wait and see who gets the nod. Let’s just hope the next guy is vetted, experienced, and isn’t nominated, simply because he said some nice things about Trump, at one time.