Here's Why Trump's New VA Secretary Pick Ronny Jackson Is Worrying Veterans Groups

After weeks of rumor and speculation about the coming ouster, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he's replacing Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin with his White House doctor.


Ronny Jackson, a Navy admiral and the president's physician, also served in the Obama White House and is widely respected. However, being a skilled and personable doctor is not the same as being a good pick to run the second-biggest Cabinet department that employs more than 300,000 people.

Jackson is best known to the public for his January press conference on the results of Trump's yearly physical. That performance stirred a number of controversies — including about the accuracy of Trump's reported height and weight — but most troubling was Jackson's assessment of Trump's overall health as "excellent."

At the time, Dr. Mary Walsh, the president of the American College of Cardiology, disputed this characterization. She told me that Trump is clearly not in excellent health, given his weight, cholesterol, and his elevated risk for heart attack and stroke.

Perhaps Jackson was simply trying to maintain a good relationship with his patient by exaggerating the level of his health. But a willingness to stretch the truth to please Trump is a very troubling quality for a Cabinet secretary, especially one who will lead a very troubled agency.

And as a Navy doctor, Jackson has no experience leading an agency as large and complex as the VA. But Trump, who picked a former Texas governor to run an agency in charge of nuclear weapons and a neurosurgeon to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has historically been that concerned that his Cabinet secretaries are exceptionally well-qualified.

"We are disappointed and already quite concerned about this nominee," Joe Chenelly, the national executive director of the veterans advocacy group AMVETS, said in a statement to the New York Times. "The administration needs to be ready to prove that he's qualified to run such a massive agency, a $200 billion bureaucracy."

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