Outgoing VA secretary to new chief: ‘It is going to be a challenge’

A day after President Donald Trump fired him as secretary of veterans affairs, David Shulkin offered kind words to presidential physician Ronny Jackson, Trump’s choice to replace him, and stressed the depth of the challenge ahead.

“It is going to be a challenge for anybody to take,” Shulkin said on “Anderson Cooper 360” Thursday evening.

Jackson is a military doctor who has worked in the White House for three successive administrations, but Trump’s decision to nominate him to lead the second largest department of the federal government has elicited skepticism about whether that experience is suited to the job.

Shulkin noted in the interview that when it comes to the Department of Veterans Affairs, “we’re talking about 375,000 employees” and “a budget of close to 200 billion dollars next year.”

But in response to criticism such as that of former CIA Director John Brennan, who called it a “terribly misguided nomination,” Shulkin offered his personal support for Jackson in the role.

“I also know Dr. Jackson. He’s a friend of mine. I have considerable respect for him,” Shulkin said. “I will do everything that I can to help Dr. Jackson succeed in this position.”

Shulkin said the key for the next secretary is to fashion a team that supports a stronger department, and warned during the interview about infighting he experienced before his firing.

“This is bigger than any one person,” Shulkin said.

Shulkin pinned the contention within the department under his tenure on Trump’s political appointees, who he said favored an aggressive privatization path he thinks is wrongheaded.

“I believe strongly, Anderson, that when it comes to VA and national security, we can’t make this a political issue,” Shulkin said. “There were some political appointees within my administration that didn’t see it that way and really wanted us to take a much harder stance towards privatization. I wasn’t willing to do that. I don’t think that’s the right thing for veterans, and I stood up against them.”