Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson Withdraws as Trump's Nominee to Lead VA

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson Withdraws as Trump's Nominee to Lead VA
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By MOAA Staff

President Donald Trump's pick to run the Department of Veterans Affairs has withdrawn from consideration following allegations of wrongdoing, allegations which he denied in a Thursday statement.

“Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity,” Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, said in a statement. “The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated. If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd Wednesday that 23 people had approached his office about Jackson's behavior on the job. Jackson was accused by current and former colleagues of drinking while on duty, writing himself prescriptions for drugs, and contributing to a toxic leadership environment, USA Today reported this week.

Jackson denied the claims in his statement.

“In my role as a doctor, I have tirelessly worked to provide excellent care for all my patients,” he said. “In doing so, I have always adhered to the highest ethical standards. Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this President and the important issue we must be addressing - how we give the best care to our nation's heroes.”

Trump named Jackson to lead the massive health agency last month after losing confidence in then-VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin. Jackson, an Iraq War veteran, has served as the White House doctor for three administrations.

As speculation of the allegations was building, Jackson hosted several veterans' groups at the White House on Friday, which MOAA attended. Flanked by administration officials, Jackson opened the meeting by recounting his more than 20 years in the Navy and making a firm, yet passionate declaration of his commitment to putting veterans first if confirmed by Congress.

The introductory meeting gave VSOs a first look at how Jackson planned to lead the VA. MOAA shared its concerns and priorities for the department, too, which included:

  • Replacing Choice and reforming VA community care programs.
  • Enhancing women veterans health care.
  • Preserving foundational and specialty care services.
  • Advancing toxic exposure research and health care for veterans exposed to contaminants as part of military service.
  • Protecting earned benefits.
  • Strengthening mental health and suicide prevention programs.

Jackson said he wanted to put veterans first, ensuring VA the best for them. His work, he pledged, would be built around one question: What's best for veterans?

“This is an important question to me because I will be a veteran soon,” Jackson said. “I have a son at the Naval Academy and another son aspiring to follow his brother, so I have a stake in making sure veterans get the best.”

Jackson also made it clear that he had no interest in dismantling the VA, as some in the administration push toward privatization. Instead, he said he wanted a stronger system built around the best care. He also said the VA must also be good stewards of Americans' tax dollars, which meant looking carefully at how the agency's massive budget was spent.

He wanted to inspire VA employees, too, which he said “serve with a servant's heart.”

Since that meeting though, Tester told Meet the Press Daily, people had come forward “everyday about some of the challenges that Admiral Jackson had as chief of the White House medical unit.” They were allegations, he said, that members of his committee needed to assess carefully in order to ensure they got the right person to lead the department that cares for veterans and their families.

“I think what we've seen is a pattern of problems that people deserve to know,” Tester said. “I know a lot of folks have said, mainly from the White House, that we shouldn't be doing this. But look, it would be senatorial malpractice for us not to follow up on this.”

Trump said Jackson was being railroaded by a “vicious group of people” on Capitol Hill. It's not immediately clear who Trump will nominate to lead the department now that Jackson has withdrawn.