Trump pushes out Shulkin at VA, nominates Jackson as replacement

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump ousted Veterans Affairs Secretary DavidShulkin on Wednesday in response to heavy criticism and nominated his personal physician, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, to replace him in the latest turnover among Trump's team.

White House officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Shulkin had become a distraction due to a constant wave of speculation about his future and said he would be leaving in the next day or two. They said an undersecretary at the Department of Defense, Robert Wilkie, will be the acting secretary.

Shulkin had drawn fire for a damning report from the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It found that during a trip to London and Denmark he improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and his chief of staff made false statements so Shulkin's wife could travel at government expense.

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Presidential physician Ronny Jackson
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Presidential physician Ronny Jackson
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with White House Physician Rear Admiral Dr. Ronny Jackson, following his annual physical at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
White House, Presidential physician Ronny Jackson answers question about U.S. President Donald Trump's health after the president's annual physical during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Dr. Ronny Jackson after his annual physical exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S., January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
US President Donald Trump (C) and his White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson (L) listen as US Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin speaks about new technology used by the Department of Veterans Affairs during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House August 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
White House, Presidential physician Ronny Jackson prepares to answers question about U.S. President Donald Trump's health after the president's annual physical during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Dr. Ronny Jackson after his annual physical exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S., January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson speaks to reporters during the daily briefing in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (C) walks with his physician Dr. Ronny Jackson (2nd R) to Marine One after visiting with troops at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center November 29, 2016 in Bethesda, Maryland. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 3: (AFP OUT) U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr.David Shulkin(right) explains equipment to White House Physician Dr. Ronny L. Jackson(left) U.S. President Donald Trump (2nd left) to be used in a new program using video and software technology to provide medical care to veterans at The White House August 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
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One official said the criticism of Shulkin was "making it harder for him to carry out the duties of secretary of the VA, which is something the president has made clear is a big priority for him."

Jackson, a rear admiral of the U.S. Navy, has been working as a presidential physician since the George W. Bush administration, and has been the lead doctor monitoring Trump's health since Trump became president.

Jackson gave Trump a clean bill of health early this year after giving the president a physical. He put him on a diet to lose some weight and directed him to get some exercise. Aides said Trump has been eating more fish and fewer cheeseburgers lately.

A Texas native who has been on active duty since 1995, Jackson served during the U.S.-led war in Iraq as an emergency medicine physician in Taqaddum, Iraq.

"Admiral Jackson is highly trained and qualified and as a service member himself, he has seen firsthand the tremendous sacrifice our veterans make and has a deep appreciation for the debt our great country owes them," Trump said.

A White House official said Trump warmed to Jackson and had been aware that Shulkin had sought to make Jackson the VA undersecretary last year.

"The president wants somebody who gives him the best possible care to go over and give that same care to the veterans. That's how strongly he feels about getting them represented properly," the official said.

Trump said he appreciated Shulkin's work, including passage of the VA Accountability Act."He has been a great supporter of veterans across the country and I am grateful for his service," Trump said in a statement.

U.S. Representative Phil Roe, a Republican who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said he hated to see Shulkin go but respected Trump's decision.

"At the end of the day, cabinet secretaries serve at the pleasure of the president," he said.

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Notable people who have been fired or resigned from Trump's administration
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Notable people who have been fired or resigned from Trump's administration

White House Communications Director Hope Hicks reportedly announced her resignation after testifying about her job and being required to tell "white lies."

(Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

H.R. McMaster was replaced by John Bolton as national security advisor in March 2018.

(Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)

Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn announced his resignation in March 2018 after becoming a key architect of the 2017 tax overhaul 

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Sally Yates was fired from her post as acting attorney general when she refused to enforce President Trump's travel ban. 

(Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser in February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his interactions with Russian officials. 

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

President Trump announced David Shulkin was out as secretary of veterans affairs by sending a tweet announcing he had nominated his personal physican, Ronny Jackson, to replace him on March 28, 2018.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Trump fired Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh amid White House leaks in April.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Files)

President Trump fired U.S. Attorney in Manhattan Preet Bharara in March.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in early May.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Dubke resigned as White House communications director in late May.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Walter Shaub, former Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics in Washington, DC resigned in July.

(Photo Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned in July.

(June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus resigned in July.

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Former advisor to President Donald Trump Steve Bannon resigned in August.

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Anthony Scaramucci, former White House communications director was fired in July after just 10 days on the job. 

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned in late September. 

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter arrives with U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump aboard Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S. February 5, 2018. Picture taken February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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Will Fischer, director of government relations for the VoteVets lobby group, said his group hopes Jackson will oppose any attempt to privatize the VA or its health services, a concept that Republicans talk about occasionally.

"If Dr. Jackson can do that, immediately, he will do a lot to help his chances at confirmation," Fischer said.

The VA oversees healthcare and benefits going to roughly 20 million U.S. military veterans. The Veterans Health Administration, the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States, provides care at more than 1,200 facilities, including 170 VA Medical Centers, to more than 9 million veterans.

Trump praised Shulkin as "fantastic" when he chose him to head the VA in January 2017. Trump, who promised improved veterans' care during his presidential campaign, last year said the department had made "tremendous progress" under Shulkin.

But support for him at the White House eroded quickly in recent weeks as Trump grew weary of the drumbeat of negative headlines about him.

Shulkin said after the release of the inspector general's report that he would comply with its recommendations, including reimbursing the government for his wife's $4,312 airfare and paying his friend for the Wimbledon tickets. The department announced two days after the report was issued that Shulkin's chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, would retire.

Shulkin joins a long list of senior officials who have either resigned or been fired since Trump took office in January 2017. Others include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, FBI chief James Comey and FBI No. 2 Andrew McCabe, Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon, national security advisers H.R. McMaster and Michael Flynn, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, communications directors Hope Hicks and Anthony Scaramucci, and economic adviser Gary Cohn.

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Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin
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Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin (L) testifies before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee September 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the topic of 'Be There: What more can be done to prevent veteran suicide?' (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin testifies before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee September 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the topic of 'Be There: What more can be done to prevent veteran suicide?' (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WATER MILL, NY - AUGUST 26: Secretary David Shulkin attends 13th Annual Prostate Cancer Foundation's Gala in the Hamptons with a Special Performance by Kool & The Gang at Parrish Art Museum on August 26, 2017 in Water Mill, New York. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 3: (AFP OUT) U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin speaks during the announcement at The White House in Washington, DC of a new program using video and software technology to provide medical care to veterans at The White House August 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 3: (AFP OUT) Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr.David Shulkin speaks during a Department of Veterans Affairs announcement with U.S. President Donald J. Trump of a new program using video and software technology to provide medical care to veterans at The White House August 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
David Shulkin, secretary of U.S. Veteran Affairs, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. Shulkin discussed the transformation of Veterans Affairs being undertaken by the Trump Administration. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images�
(L-R), VA Secretary David Shulkin, and President Donald Trump shake hands, before POTUS signed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 in the East Room of the White House, on Friday, June 23, 2017. (Photo by Cheriss May) (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
VA Secretary David J. Shulkin, surrounded by a group of veterans, speaks to reporters outside of the West Wing of the White House, on Friday, June 23, 2017. (Photo by Cheriss May) (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: U.S. President Donald Trump gives the pen he signed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 to Afghanistan war veteran and Purple Heart recipient Michael Verardo during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House June 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump credited Congress and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin for getting the legislation into law. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin participates in a discussion during a conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce June 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. The George W. Bush Institute hosted a conference to address veteran issues. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin speaks during the press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 5, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (C) stands withRolling Thrunder, Inc., founder Artie Muller (3rd-R) L) and US Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin (R) as opening remarks are delivered at the Pentagon May 28, 2017. of Washington, DC, in honor of Memorial Day. Cabinet members drove Harley Davidisons the full route on the 30th Anniversary of Rolling Thunder, where approximately 900,000 motorcycle riders parade thru the streets / AFP PHOTO / PAUL J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, looks on before testifying at a House Veteran's Affairs Committee hearing on the FY2018 budget request at the Capitol on May 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump speaks with Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin (R) during a listening session about veterans affairs in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 14: Dr. David Shulkin is sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence as new Veterans Affairs Secretary February 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Shulkin was unanimously confirmed yesterday. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Secretary of Veterans' Affairs-designate David Shulkin testifies during a Senate Veterans' Affairs confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 1, 2017. Shulkin is the only cabinet holdover from the Obama administration, in which he serves as undersecretary of health for the Department of Veterans Affairs. He previously worked as chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania health system. / AFP / ZACH GIBSON (Photo credit should read ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish)

 

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