Several of the nation’s largest veterans groups voiced support for embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Monday amid rumblings that some in the administration are trying to force him out.
The 2-million-member American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and other groups said they are standing behind Mr. Shulkin’s job performance, despite an ethics violation that involved taking his wife on a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe.
“While we were disappointed to learn of the recent issue with the secretary’s travel, we believe that the current controversy surrounding the secretary is part of a larger effort to remove him and install others who would take steps to privatize the services provided to our nation’s heroes by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said American Legion National Commander Denise Rohan.
Joe Chenille, executive director of AMVETS, said the Trump administration has “two different VAs right now, two different administration efforts, and that’s just not going to work.”
“The president has to have a unified voice from his administration that begins and ends with the secretary, and he must make it clear to the rest of the team that they have to be willing to follow the secretary, or leave,” Mr. Chenille said.
After being summoned to a meeting last week with White House chief of staff John F. Kelly, Mr. Shulkin said he had no intention of resigning and hadn’t been asked to leave his post.
“I’m not going to let the politics of what’s going on distract me from doing the job that I came to Washington to do,” he told CNN.
President Trump reportedly has been frustrated with yet another travel-related scandal in his Cabinet. An investigation by VA Inspector General Michael Missal found “serious derelictions” by Mr. Shulkin during a July 2017 trip to England and Denmark, including that he improperly accepted tickets to Wimbledon for himself and his wife.
His chief of staff was accused of altering an email that resulted in the department paying more than $4,000 for Mr. Shulkin’s wife, Merle Bari, to accompany him on the trip.
The chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, “elected to retire” Friday in the wake of the report, a VA spokesman said.
Mr. Shulkin is a rarity in the Trump Cabinet — an Obama administration holdover who was tapped to lead a federal agency. He’s a board-certified physician who has grappled with modernizing the department’s system of electronic health records and with expanding health-care options for veterans who live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA medical center.
Some veterans groups expressed concern that any effort to undermine Mr. Shulkin is also aimed at privatizing veterans’ health services, a goal of some conservatives.
“We are 100 percent opposed to the privatization of the VA and will work vigorously to ensure our nation’s veterans have the efficient, transparent, and properly functioning VA that they deserve,” Ms. Rohan said. “We have been encouraged by the great progress Secretary Shulkin has made and believe that he remains the best person to lead this important federal public institution on the behalf of the American people.”
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