Trump plans to oust D. Shulkin as Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary

South Florida Times - - CARIBBEAN - By As­so­ci­ated Press Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary David Shulkin

HOPE YEN and KEN THOMAS

PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is plan­ning to oust em­bat­tled Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary David Shulkin amid an ex­tra­or­di­nary re­bel­lion at the agency and dam­ag­ing gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his al­leged spend­ing abuses, three ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Sun­day.

Two of­fi­cials said an an­nounce­ment on Shulkin could hap­pen this week, sub­ject to Trump's fi­nal de­ci­sion as the White House hones in on pos­si­ble re­place­ments to head the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs. One of the of­fi­cials rated Shulkin's chances of be­ing pushed out in the next day or two at “50-50.'' The three of­fi­cials de­manded anonymity to dis­cuss a sen­si­tive per­son­nel mat­ter.

Trump, who spent the week­end at his Mar-a-Lago es­tate, told as­so­ciates that he would keep two other ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials who had been un­der fire: White House chief of staff John F. Kelly and Hous­ing Sec­re­tary Ben Carson.

“He did say that he's ex­pect­ing to make one or two ma­jor changes,'' said News­max CEO Chris Ruddy, a Trump con­fi­dant who spoke with the pres­i­dent over the week­end, on ABC's “This Week.''

“Now, other White House sources, not the pres­i­dent, tell me that Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary David Shulkin is likely to de­part the Cabi­net very soon,'' Ruddy said.

The White House did not im­me­di­ately com­ment. Shulkin did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Sun­day.

Spec­u­la­tion over Shulkin's fate has ramped up in re­cent weeks fol­low­ing a blis­ter­ing re­port by VA's in­ter­nal watch­dog in Fe­bru­ary that found he had im­prop­erly ac­cepted Wim­ble­don tick­ets and his staff had doc­tored emails to jus­tify his wife trav­el­ing to Europe with him at tax­payer ex­pense. Ear­lier this month, two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the White House dis­cus­sions told the AP that Trump in­creas­ingly viewed Shulkin as a dis­trac­tion as the White House floated the names of pos­si­ble can­di­dates to re­place him, in­clud­ing con­ser­va­tive “Fox & Friends'' con­trib­u­tor Pete Hegseth.

A sep­a­rate VA watch­dog in­ves­ti­ga­tion, due out in the com­ing weeks, is also look­ing into a com­plaint that Shulkin asked his se­cu­rity de­tail to ac­com­pany him to a Home De­pot store and cart fur­ni­ture items, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the al­le­ga­tion who re­quested anonymity to dis­cuss an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

One per­son fa­mil­iar with the White House dis­cus­sions told the AP on Sun­day that the White House was look­ing closely at roughly half a dozen can­di­dates to head the VA, the gov­ern­ment's sec­ond-largest depart­ment with 370,000 em­ploy­ees.

Among the can­di­dates be­ing vet­ted in­clude Hegseth, a for­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cer and for­mer CEO of the con­ser­va­tive Con­cerned Vet­er­ans for Amer­ica; for­mer Rep. Jeff Miller, who had been chair­man of the House Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Com­mit­tee; re­tired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kel­logg; Michael Kuss­man, a for­mer VA un­der­sec­re­tary of health; Toby Cosgrove, a for­mer pres­i­dent and CEO of the Cleve­land Clinic; and Leo Mackay Jr., a for­mer VA deputy sec­re­tary who is now se­nior vice pres­i­dent at Lock­heed Martin Corp.

In the event of Shulkin's de­par­ture, deputy VA sec­re­tary Tom Bow­man would serve as act­ing head of the VA un­til a nom­i­nee is con- firmed by the Se­nate. Bow­man has also come un­der crit­i­cism at the White House for be­ing too mod­er­ate to push Trump's agenda of fix­ing vet­er­ans' care.

Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Trump re­peat­edly pledged to fix the VA by ex­pand­ing ac­cess to pri­vate doc­tors and fir­ing bad em­ploy­ees, crit­i­ciz­ing the depart­ment as “the most cor­rupt.'' Last year, Trump promised to triple the num­ber of vet­er­ans “see­ing the doc­tor of their choice.''

But a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion plan to ex­pand the Vet­er­ans Choice pro­gram re­mains in limbo af­ter law­mak­ers de­clined last week to in­clude it in a mas­sive spend­ing bill.

In re­sponse to the ethics is­sues, Shulkin has de­nied wrong­do­ing and com­plained about in­ter­nal drama at the agency that has made it dif­fi­cult for him to push through VA im­prove­ments, cit­ing a half dozen or so po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees there who were re­belling against him.

But Kelly, the White House chief of staff, re­cently made it clear to Shulkin that he had be­come weary of the VA sec­re­tary's ten­dency to run to the me­dia to voice com­plaints and claim a White House man­date that he did not fully have, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tions who wasn't autho­rized to dis­cuss them pub­licly and in­sisted on anonymity.

The depart­ment pro­vides med­i­cal care and other ben­e­fits to 9 mil­lion mil­i­tary vet­er­ans in more than 1,700 health fa­cil­i­ties around the U.S.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF WIKIPEDIA

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