Fired V.A. secretary: 'It should not be this hard to serve your country'

Colin Campbell
Managing Editor

Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin does not appear to be happy about his sudden firing Wednesday evening.

In a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday night, Shulkin praised his own record in office while lamenting the challenges of serving in President Trump’s administration.

“As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought: It should not be this hard to serve your country,” he wrote.

Shulkin said he was under pressure by forces in the Trump administration that want to privatize his now-former agency. He dismissed privatization as a “terrible idea.”

“They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed,” he wrote, without naming his critics. “That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.”

But Shulkin’s op-ed papers over his controversies in office. Shulkin, who was appointed undersecretary at the V.A. by President Barack Obama, was one of several Trump Cabinet officials who landed in hot water for alleged misuse of taxpayer dollars. A February report by the V.A.’s internal watchdog found that Shulkin improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and that he used department resources for “planning leisure activities” while in Europe with his wife. That trip to Europe cost the V.A. at least $122,334, the watchdog found.

President Trump and White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, his nominee to replace David Shulkin as Veterans Affairs secretary (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Associated Press, citing sources, reported that a separate watchdog probe “is also looking into a complaint that Shulkin asked his security detail to accompany him to a Home Depot store and cart furniture items.”

Rumors have swirled for days that Shulkin would be fired. But on Monday a White House spokesman said Trump still had “confidence in Dr. Shulkin.” On Wednesday, Trump announced that he was nominating his personal physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, to replace Shulkin. (Trump was reportedly impressed by Jackson’s glowing on-camera health assessment of the president.) It was just the latest in a series of firings in Trump’s turbulent administration.

Meanwhile, Shulkin maintains that he did nothing unethical.

“As many of you know, I am a physician, not a politician,” he wrote in the op-ed. “I came to government with an understanding that Washington can be ugly, but I assumed that I could avoid all of the ugliness by staying true to my values. I have been falsely accused of things by people who wanted me out of the way. But despite these politically-based attacks on me and my family’s character, I am proud of my record and know that I acted with the utmost integrity. Unfortunately, none of that mattered.”

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