Veterans group to Trump: Reconsider choice for acting VA Secretary

The President sidestepped ousted VA Secretary Shulkin’s deputy, who was next in line to succeed him, and named DoD official Robert Wilkie as acting secretary.
By Jessica Davis
01:09 PM
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Veterans group wants new VA Secretary

AMVETS, one of the nation’s largest veterans groups, is urging President Donald Trump to reconsider naming a Department of Defense official as acting secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Trump ousted VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, last week, right before announcing he was placing DoD Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Robert Wilkie in charge of the agency in the interim. However, in doing so, he bypassed Shulkin’s deputy, who was in line to succeed him.

In the letter, AMVETS National Commander Marion Polk wrote that the move goes against federal regulations that predesignated VA Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman for the position.

[Also: Trump's VA Secretary pick: Good doctor, but can he fill Shulkin's shoes?]

Not only that, but Wilkie has no previous VA experience as acting secretary, Polk argued. Bowman, however, previously served as chief of staff for two VA secretaries in Republican administrations.

“Real, reasonable reform is underway within the VA, and veterans are depending with their lives on that momentum to carry improvements forward,” Polk wrote. “While Wilkie may be a very bright person and leader, he does not know the VA or its problems. He’s at square one, as any outsider would be.”

[Also: With Shulkin out, what's next for the VA's EHR modernization?]

“While there’s no doubt he would grow into the position over time, veterans don’t have that time,” he added. “Bowman… clearly has the knowledge and experience veterans deserve from an acting secretary. He has earned the trust of Congress, and he’s clearly the best positioned and equipped to lead the VA right now.”

The letter comes amid reports disputing whether Shulkin was fired or resigned. Shulkin has repeatedly said that he was fired and would never resign, while the White House said he resigned.

The potential issue stems from the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, which gives the President the authority to temporarily fill agency vacancies that stem from a death, resignation or if the person is unable to perform the function of their office.

But the law doesn’t explicitly outline if the President has that authority if the official is fired.

The President nominated White House Physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson to become VA Secretary. The move has raised its own set of concerns to whether he’s qualified because he’s never held command or managed anything near the size of the VA, the second largest federal agency, after the Department of Defense.

“Sidestepping Bowman in favor of an outsider wholly unfamiliar with the VA is a confusing choice that only serves to erode confidence in the VA as an institution during this critical time,” Polk wrote. “Send Wilkie back to the Pentagon, and elevate Bowman to acting secretary.”

“This is what common sense, veterans and the law all require, and it needs to happen now,” he added.

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com