Shulkin unanimously confirmed as Veterans Affairs head

The acting VA undersecretary is the only remaining leader of the Obama administration and the only Trump cabinet pick with bipartisan support.
By Jessica Davis
11:12 AM

David Shulkin, MD, was unanimously confirmed as secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs by the Senate on Monday night, becoming the first secretary who did not serve in the military.

Shulkin is the first of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees supported by all Republicans and Democrats. And he’s the only remaining leader from the Obama administration.

Shulkin has been in charge of the veterans’ health system as acting VA undersecretary since March 2015. He entered the VA after the major wait-time scandal - where managers at multiple VA medical centers  told staff to hide appointment delays.

Shulkin spent his tenure working to reduce wait times and improve care access for patients. He’s also an advocate of telemedicine and moving the VA to a commercial EHR.

The U.S Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs unanimously voted in favor of his nomination on Feb. 7.

“He has successfully managed the largest healthcare network in the country, helping to lead the transformation of the system following the waitlist and access scandals uncovered in 2014,” the Senate committee wrote. “He has led the Veterans Health Administration through a difficult transition period by installing new leadership and implementing new reform plans to improve access and quality of care.”

“We’re confident he will continue moving VA forward so that it can better meet the needs of America’s veterans, their families and survivors,” they added.

Shulkin will be pressured to make dramatic changes as soon as he starts the position, as Trump spent a portion of his campaign calling the VA system “broken” and calling for a shift to privatize veterans’ healthcare.

However, Shulkin has other ideas, which he shared with the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. He won’t transfer parts of the system to private doctors, but will instead look to a “major reform and transformation of the VA.”

“There will be far greater accountability, dramatically improved access, responsiveness and expanded care options. But the Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch,” Shulkin said. “It is unfortunate that a few employees who deviated from the values we hold so dear have been able to tarnish the reputation of so many who have dedicated their lives to serving those who have served." 

Shulkin will lead 350,000 employees at about 2,000 clinics and medical centers. He’ll also need to determine whether to replace the VHA’s outdated EHR with a commercial system, while addressing the unfilled 45,000 medical jobs throughout the VHA.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
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