A new piece by Politico likened President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Veterans Administration to the choice the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu made in the early 1970s to lead his nation’s health ministry.
Trump announced last week that he was replacing VA Secretary David Shulkin with White House physician Adm. Ronny Jackson.
Shulkin was an Obama administration holdover, appointed as under secretary at the agency in the wake of the 2014 VA scandal.
Multiple locations were plagued with long wait times for care (months in some cases), and falsified records to cover up the failures.
Trump elevated Shulkin VA secretary shortly after taking office.
“Feelings on Shulkin began to sour in February (of this year), when the VA’s inspector general released a report on a trip to Europe over the summer that found Shulkin spent most of his time sightseeing rather than conducting official business and improperly accepted tickets to a Wimbledon tennis match as a gift,” The Hill reported.
An additional inspector general investigation was underway regarding allegations of Shulkin using a member of his security detail for a private matter.
Trump praised Shulkin for the reforms he brought to the VA. However, the president announced last week, “I intend to nominate highly respected Admiral Ronny L. Jackson. MD, as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs.”
….In the interim, Hon. Robert Wilkie of DOD will serve as Acting Secretary. I am thankful for Dr. David Shulkin’s service to our country and to our GREAT VETERANS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2018
Romanian born professors Marius Stan of the University of Bucharest and Vladimir Tismaneanu of the University of Maryland argued in an op-ed for Politico that the VA system could end up like Romania’s Ministry of Health under the communist Ceausescu.
They noted the dictator, like Trump, appointed a physician, Theodor Burghele, to run the agency.
— POLITICO (@politico) April 2, 2018
The authors explained that Burghele had no management experience, and after three short years he resigned not able to effectively oversee his charge.
Likewise, Ceausescu appointed his personal doctor, Iulian Mincu, to head the country’s nourishment program. The physician eventually became head of the Ministry of Health under the dictator’s successor and did an equally poor job: with intrahospital infections, scarcity of medical drugs, poor pay and the highest recorded maternal mortality of any country in Europe, according to Stan and Tismaneanu.
The professors wrote, “One of the lessons from these two Romanian stories is that expertise matters decisively.”
They continued, “Another is that proximity to the leader (even if he or she is democratically elected, as Trump was) does not qualify one for running huge bureaucracies in need of urgent overhaul. Managing complex organizations is a skill in its own right.
“Putting someone unqualified in charge of a massive system such as the Romanian Ministry of Health could lead to amateurism, improvisation and, eventually, mission failure. In our case, it did — twice,” Stan and Tismaneanu contended.
The authors believe Jackson, though an admiral with strong personal qualities, likely does not have the background to run the VA with its more than 1,200 facilities and 160,000 employees.
The Army Times reported that Jackson is an Iraq War veteran with 23 years of military service.
Fox News personality and Iraq War veteran Pete Hegseth is more optimistic about Trump’s choice of the adminiral.
.@PeteHegseth on President Trump's changes at the VA: "I Think Dr. Ronny Jackson has a great opportunity to restore that healthy relationship between the VA and the White House." pic.twitter.com/GVabnsMqvN
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) April 2, 2018
Hegseth used to be executive director of the advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America, and was himself reportedly under consideration to head the VA early in Trump’s administration.
The FNC anchor stated on Fox Business that Jackson will support the president’s desire to give veterans choice in their medical care, instead trying to block that effort as Shulkin did.
“Critics will say that Trump simply wants to privatize the system. That’s not what it is,” Hegseth said. “He simply wants to give veterans a choice to go see a VA doctor or to go see a private doctor.”
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