Trump taps Obama VA official Shulkin to lead struggling department

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President-elect Donald Trump made one of his final Cabinet appointments on Wednesday, announcing his selection of David J. Shulkin – the top health official in the Department of Veterans Affairs – to lead the struggling agency.

“I have no doubt Dr. Shulkin will be able to lead the turnaround our Department of Veterans Affairs needs. His sole mandate will be to serve our veterans and restore the level of care we owe to our brave men and women in the military,” Trump said in a statement, after revealing his pick at a news conference minutes earlier.

He said Shulkin is “an incredibly gifted doctor who is using his elite talents for medicine to care for our heroes, and Americans can have faith he will get the job done right.”

Shulkin currently serves as under secretary for health at the VA in the Obama administration, a position that is responsible for running the Veterans Health Administration.

President Obama nominated him for that position in March 2015; he was confirmed later that year.

If confirmed for the top job by the Senate, Shulkin would become the first non-veteran to head the department that has been plagued for years by scandals involving mistreatment of veterans.

In May 2014, reports of months-long wait-times for veterans seeking care resulted in the resignation of then-VA secretary Eric Shinseki, who had served in the post since 2009.

Problems with the VA have been documented in numerous reports from the VA Office of Inspector General and the General Accounting Office (GAO) for decades and remain a top concern of lawmakers.

Shulkin, a board-certified internist, has said he believes the VA must implement reforms to the delivery of health care, while maintaining a focus on the veteran.

“VA is at a historic crossroad and will need to make bold reforms that will shape how we deliver IT services and health care in the future, as well as improve the experiences of Veterans, community providers, and VA staff,” he told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last June.

In addition to his background as a doctor, Shulkin brings a lengthy record of executive experience to the position, having served as president at several medical institutions, including Morristown Medical Center and Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.