Trump's First 100 Days

David Shulkin, Trump’s least controversial cabinet pick, must now work to reform the struggling Department of Veterans Affairs

Moriah Ratner | Staff Photographer

Shulkin is the sole holdover from former President Barack Obama’s administration now serving on Trump’s cabinet.

One of President Donald Trump’s least controversial cabinet picks has been tasked with revitalizing an agency plagued by national controversies in recent years.

David Shulkin, the new secretary of veterans affairs, has his work cut out for him, with the aging Department of Veterans Affairs still recovering from its infamous wait times scandal. The agency continues to suffer from mismanagement and is lacking an adequate number of medical staff members to help serve the increasing number of veterans using VA services, according to NPR.

The VA provides patient care and federal benefits to veterans and their dependents.

Shulkin is the sole holdover from former President Barack Obama’s administration now serving on Trump’s cabinet. Shulkin is also the first secretary of veterans affairs to not be a veteran, per CNN. He was previously the president and CEO of the Beth Israel Medical Center, president of the Morristown Medical Center and the chief medical officer at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, according to CNN.

Unlike many of Trump’s cabinet picks, Shulkin’s confirmation went smoothly and the former undersecretary for health received unanimous bipartisan support from senators. He was confirmed with a vote of 100-0.

Despite this, Shulkin still finds himself in a difficult position, under pressure to reform the VA. Trump called the department a “disaster” and “the most corrupt agency in the United States” during the campaign last year, according to The New York Times.

In 2014, investigations by The Arizona Republic and other media outlets revealed that a VA center in Phoenix had manipulated scheduling and, while waiting for care, dozens of veterans had died. Investigations found similar cases of manipulation across the country.

Veteran suicide rates remain high, with one VA study finding that 20 veterans in the U.S. commit suicide every day, according to the Military Times. While veteran homelessness has seen a sharp decline in the U.S. over the last few years, 39,471 veterans were still estimated to be homeless on a given night in January 2016, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

One of Trump’s signature campaign promises was to improve veterans care and treatment in the U.S. if elected. The president has already proposed $78.9 billion in funding for the VA’s 2018 budget, while also requesting legislative authority and $3.5 billion in mandatory budget authority to continue the VA’s Veterans Choice program, which is set to expire this August.

This program allows veterans to seek health care through a private provider, instead of using VA hospitals. While on the campaign trail, Trump said he favored some use of private health care outside of the VA’s system for veterans. Other Republicans in Washington have also frequently pushed for further integration of private healthcare providers into the veterans’ health care system, according to Business Insider.

Proponents of increasing private care options in the VA system say it will give veterans more healthcare options so they can avoid long wait times for treatment. Opponents, meanwhile, say privatization only creates more chaos and creates even longer wait times for veterans.

Shulkin, going against Trump’s campaign rhetoric, has said the VA will not be “privatized” during his tenure at the agency, according to The Washington Post. But Shulkin assured wary Republicans during his confirmation hearing that he was still looking to rehabilitate the struggling department.

“The VA is a unique natural resource that is worth saving, and I am committed to doing just that,” Shulkin said in early February in obtained remarks for a Senate hearing by The Associated Press.

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