Trump Taps Obama Appointee As VA Secretary

VA Undersecretary Dr. David Shulkin talks with attendees prior to testifying at a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee field hearing in Gilbert, Ariz., in 2015. VA Undersecretary Dr. David Shulkin talks with attendees prior to testifying at a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee field hearing in Gilbert, Ariz., in 2015. AP file photo

This story has been updated.

Dr. David Shulkin, the undersecretary of health at the Veterans Affairs Department, is President-elect Donald’s Trump choice to head the government’s second-largest federal agency.

Trump announced the pick Wednesday during his first press conference as president-elect. The VA job was one of the last Cabinet slots to be announced by the incoming administration.

“We looked long and hard,” Trump said, of the search for a VA secretary. “We interviewed at least 100 people, some good, some not so good.”

Shulkin, who now leads the Veterans Health Administration, will provide some continuity to the department, which has been undergoing a major management reform effort sparked by the 2014 patient wait-times scandal. Before coming to the VA in 2015, Shulkin served in several chief executive roles at various hospitals and medical centers, including Beth Israel in New York City. An internist, Shulkin also served as chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

The surprise announcement also should allay concerns of some veterans’ groups, which lobbied the incoming administration to keep current VA Secretary Bob McDonald at the helm to maintain some of the progress he and his team have made in improving service to vets and changing the department’s culture. Got Your 6's Executive Director Bill Rausch said his group looked forward to working with Shulkin, while also praising McDonald. 

"Sec. McDonald’s transparent and collaborative leadership style helped bring together all of us in the veterans community who are working towards the common goal of reshaping and reforming the VA. Not only is he credited for leading the department out of crisis, he should be celebrated for bringing in the right people, like Dr. Shulkin, who has propelled VA along a transformational path that sets the next administration up for success," Rausch said in a statement. "Although Dr. Shulkin does not have military experience, we have worked with him closely in his current role and have seen first-hand his unwavering commitment to our nation’s veterans."

Shulkin met with Trump earlier this week, but he had not been among the names floated in recent weeks, which included Pete Hegseth, Fox news contributor and former CEO of Concerned Veterans for America.

Trump called Shulkin “fantastic” and predicted that he will “do a truly great job.”

The physician has often testified before Congress, and has made himself accessible to reporters. He has played a key role in McDonald’s management reform efforts, in particular trying to recruit more medical professionals to the department. He supports integrating more private-sector health care into the VA system

“It is my honor to serve as President-elect Trump’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs,” Shulkin said in statement issued by the transition team on Wednesday. "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. 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.”

House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., applauded the selection of Shulkin to lead VA. 

“I’ve long said I would be happy to work with anyone committed to ensuring our heroes have access to the services they have earned, especially quality health care, and I look forward to working with Dr. Shulkin to bring wholesale reform to the Department,” said Roe, himself a doctor. 

“We think this selection will be something that with time will straighten [the VA] out, and straighten it out for good because our veterans have been treated unfairly,” the president-elect said.

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