WASHINGTON — In advance of a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, three former Veterans Affairs secretaries praised White House physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson as “eminently qualified” to take over the challenge as President Donald Trump’s latest pick for the post.
Jackson’s nomination has drawn questions from veterans groups and some lawmakers given his lack of experience working with VA, a nearly $200 billion bureaucracy with more than 375,000 employees.
But in a letter to Senate leaders, former secretaries Anthony Principi, James Nicholson, and James Peake praised Jackson’s background as an appropriate fit for reforming the embattled agency.
“With Admiral Jackson’s background of achievement and success, we are confident that he will build his own team of effective leaders to support and assist him in moving the VA forward to serve our veterans in the manner they need and deserve,” the group wrote. “From the battlefield to the White House, Admiral Jackson is a proven leader.”
Most of the letter focuses on his military achievements, including being the top graduate in his Navy’s Undersea Medical Officer Program class and his deployment as an emergency medicine physician in charge of resuscitative medicine for a forward deployed medical platoon.
“Ensuring benefits such as education, insurance, and vocational training are among some of the most essential work done by the department,” they wrote. “Dr. Jackson will be well equipped with his knowledge and experience to address these needs and begin making meaningful reforms on day one.”
Jackson, who has served as White House physician under three presidents, was a surprise pick to take over the top VA job after Trump fired former department secretary David Shulkin last month.
He has spent recent days meeting with lawmakers and veterans groups to introduce himself and calm concerns about his inexperience. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to go before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for a confirmation hearing, at which lawmakers have promised to ask detailed questions about his views and goals for the department.
Shulkin, who had previously served as VA’s top health official before his promotion to the secretary post in early 2017, was confirmed by the Senate by a 100-0 vote. Since the VA became a Cabinet level agency 30 years ago, no senator has cast a no vote against any president’s secretary nominee.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.