Fired V.A. secretary Shulkin: 'It should not be this hard to serve your country'


Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin does not appear to be happy about his sudden firing Wednesday evening.

In a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday night, Shulkin praised his own record in office while lamenting the challenges of serving in President Trump’s administration.

“As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought: It should not be this hard to serve your country,” he wrote.

Shulkin said he was under pressure by forces in the Trump administration that want to privatize his now-former agency. He dismissed privatization as a “terrible idea.”

“They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” he wrote, without naming his critics. “That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

But Shulkin’s op-ed papers over his controversies in office. Shulkin, who was appointed undersecretary at the V.A. by President Barack Obama, was one of several Trump Cabinet officials who landed in hot water for alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars. A February report by the V.A.’s internal watchdog found that Shulkin improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and that he used department resources for “planning leisure activities” while in Europe with his wife. That trip to Europe cost the V.A. at least $122,334, the watchdog found.

The Associated Press, citing sources, reported that a separate watchdog probe “is also looking into a complaint that Shulkin asked his security detail to accompany him to a Home Depot store and cart furniture items.”

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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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Rumors have swirled for days that Shulkin would be fired. But on Monday a White House spokesman said Trump still had “confidence in Dr. Shulkin.” On Wednesday, Trump announced that he was nominating his personal physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, to replace Shulkin. (Trump was reportedly impressed by Jackson’s glowing on-camera health assessment of the president.) It was just the latest in a series of firings in Trump’s turbulent administration.

Meanwhile, Shulkin maintains that he did nothing unethical.

“As many of you know, I am a physician, not a politician,” he wrote in the op-ed. “I came to government with an understanding that Washington can be ugly, but I assumed that I could avoid all of the ugliness by staying true to my values. I have been falsely accused of things by people who wanted me out of the way. But despite these politically-based attacks on me and my family’s character, I am proud of my record and know that I acted with the utmost integrity. Unfortunately, none of that mattered.”

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