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Shulkin Ousted as VA Secretary

President Trump announced his decision to fire Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin and replace him with Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson last week. Shulkin has been the subject of a recent inspector general investigation regarding the improper use of government funds for personal travel. There have also been numerous reports about Shulkin’s disagreements with Trump appointees about the privatization of veterans’ health services. Shulkin favored only moderate expansion of the VA Choice program, while his opponents sought more aggressive changes to the agency. In an op-ed for the New York Times published after his dismissal, Shulkin argued “privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

Top Republicans in Congress, including the chairmen of the Veterans Affairs committees, have stood by Shulkin and his work to reform the VA, while many Democrats have argued that Shulkin’s dismissal is indicative of the Administration’s goal to privatize the VA. President Trump stated that he fired Shulkin because he thought veterans were waiting too long to receive care; the White House has also denied reports that the Administration is seeking to privatize the agency.

Rear Admiral Jackson has served as a White House physician since the George W. Bush Administration. Jackson received his doctorate of medicine from University of Texas Medical Branch. In 2005, he deployed as part of the Surgical Shock Trauma Platoon in Taqaddum, Iraq, where he served as the emergency physician in charge of resuscitative medicine. Jackson’s views on the expansion of private care for veterans are unknown.

Democrats have voiced concerns about Jackson’s lack of VA leadership experience, though lawmakers of both parties have expressed hope about working with Jackson to improve the VA should he be confirmed. VA secretaries typically receive strong bipartisan support during the confirmation process. Robert Wilkie, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, will serve as Acting Secretary while Jackson awaits Senate confirmation.

In related news, Darin Selnick, a frequent critic of Shulkin, announced that he will leave his post on the Domestic Policy Council as a White House adviser and return to the VA. Selnick left the agency following disputes with the former secretary last year.

Costello Announces Plans to Retire

Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) has announced that he will not be seeking reelection in the upcoming November midterms. He cited his frustration with the current political environment as one reason for his decision. Costello also faced a difficult election due to the state’s new congressional map, which was drawn by the state Supreme Court when Pennsylvania’s GOP legislature and Democratic governor could not reach an agreement on new district lines. Costello currently serves as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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