March 29 (UPI) — A day after he was dismissed, former Cabinet member David Shulkin said Thursday he disagreed with administration plans to privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In interviews with NPR and The New York Times, Shulkin also said he was advised by the White House not to discuss about a controversy over funds used on a trip to Europe last year — an issue he said was over-hyped.
“I think that it’s essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA,” he told NPR. “I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization.”
President Donald Trump thanked Shulkin for his service Wednesday and nominated U.S. Navy Adm. Ronny Jackson, Trump’s personal physician, as the new VA chief.
The dismissal occurred a month after VA Inspector General Michael Missal determined Shulkin’s chief of staff altered an email last year to get European travel expenses paid for the secretary and his wife.
The 84-page report was a response to an anonymous complaint that said the altered email sought more than $4,000 in taxpayer funds to pay for the Shulkins’ travel. The 11-day trip included two extensive travel days and three and-a-half days of events, and cost $122,334.
Shulkin said Thursday the controversy was “completely mischaracterized.”
“There was nothing improper about this trip, and I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House,” he said. “I think this was really just being used in a political context to try to make sure that I wasn’t as effective as a leader moving forward.”
Shulkin told the Times the notion of privatizing the VA should receive thorough debate.
“The advocates within the administration for privatizing VA health series reject this approach. They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” Shulkin said. “Unfortunately, the department has become entangled in a brutal power struggle with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans.”
The Disabled American Veterans group said while it wants to learn more about Jackson, it is “extremely concerned” about the “existing leadership vacuum” at the department.
“At a time of critical negotiations over the future of veterans health care reform, VA today has no secretary, no under secretary of health, and the named acting secretary has no background in health care and no apparent experience working in or with the department,” the group said in a tweet Wednesday.