Trump selects new VA secretary, reaffirms promise to improve veterans’ health care

Trump selects new VA secretary, reaffirms promise to improve veterans’ health care

Photo credit:Robert Turtil/VA

By Gina Harkins, senior staff writer 

President-elect Donald Trump has selected Dr. David Shulkin to head up the Department of Veterans Affairs - and if confirmed, he will become the first non-veteran to lead the agency.

Shulkin, currently the VA's under secretary for health, was selected to lead the massive department after a lengthy search process. So far, he is the only government official from the current administration to be tapped to serve under the president-elect. Trump announced the nomination during a Wednesday press conference - his first since being elected in November. 

“He's fantastic - he will do a truly great job,” Trump said of Shulkin. “We're going to straighten out the VA for our veterans. I've been promising that for a long time, and it's something I feel very, very strongly.”

Shulkin will oversee the VA's more than 1,700 facilities and 300,000 employees that serve millions of veterans each year. Before taking on his current position at the VA in 2015, Shulkin held numerous chief executive, physician leadership, and academic roles. He also has a background in entrepreneurship, having founded DoctorQuality, an online information source for quality and safety in health care, according to his official bio.

He received his medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania, interned at Yale University School of Medicine, and was a resident at the University of Pittsburgh Presbyterian Medical Center. 

In a statement, Shulkin called the opportunity to lead the VA an honor. 

“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. “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.”

All of the previous VA secretaries have had military experience, including the current director, Robert McDonald, who was an Army officer. During his press conference, Trump said his transition team had interviewed at least 100 people for the job before choosing to nominate Shulkin for the duty. 

Trump also reiterated his commitment to improve the VA. 

“Our veterans have been treated horribly,” the president-elect said. “They're waiting in line for 15, 16, 17 days. [There are] cases where they go in and 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.”

That's “not going to happen” on his watch, Trump said. His plans for reform include a 24-hour White House hotline that veterans can call if they have complaints about their VA care. He also wants to improve accountability within the department and allow veterans to seek care outside the VA system. 

Trump said Shulkin will work with “top of the line” hospitals that are going to “align themselves” with the VA. 

“We think this selection will be something that will - with time, with time - straighten it out, and straighten it out for good because our veterans have been treated very unfairly,” he said.   

We want to know: If you had one question to ask Dr. Shulkin in his confirmation hearing, what would you ask? We may use your response as we help prepare the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for its confirmation hearing.Click here  to email us your question.  

Gina Harkins can be reached at ginah@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter: @ginaaharkins.