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New VA Secretary joins Trump on Twitter

February 15, 2017 (Photo Credit: Staff file)
WASHINGTON — New Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin has already taken one major step to emulate President Donald Trump: He opened a Twitter account.

Shulkin, sworn in Tuesday afternoon to the Cabinet post, just a few hours later launched a new @SecShulkin on the social media network. VA officials verified the account belongs to the department head. 

At press time, the account had already picked up a few hundred followers without posting any tweets.

Vice President Mike Pence, left, as Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin speaks during his swearing in ceremony on Feb. 14, 2017, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House complex in Washington.
Photo Credit: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Federal officials with Twitter accounts aren’t unusual; Many major agency heads have personal or staff-run accounts on top of the formal channels used for department business.

But the past two VA secretaries opted not to have a personal account, opting instead to leave social media outreach to the main @DeptVetAffairs feed. That drew criticism in some corners of the veterans community for lacking a direct voice and personal touch from VA’s top leader.

VA spokeswoman Lydia Blaha said the new account is designed “to communicate the continuing progress we are making for veterans. Twitter is another means which the public and all veterans have access to the secretary.”

The move also brings Shulkin in line with the president, who has used the platform as a major outreach tool throughout his campaign last year and into the new administration.

Trump has promised to make VA more accessible to veterans in coming months, including an around-the-clock hotline at the White House for veterans to file complaints about the department.  

Just how much new information will be released on Shulkin’s feed — and how much time the new secretary will spend monitoring the account himself — remains to be seen. The federal department already maintains at least 12 other Twitter accounts, not including dozens of others maintained by individual VA state hospitals and offices.

Shulkin was confirmed by a unanimous vote by the Senate on Monday, less than five weeks after his nomination was announced by the president.
   
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.
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