A Senate confirmation hearing for VA Secretary nominee Ronny Jackson was postponed while lawmakers scrutinize his background to manage the massive federal agency, reports say.
Jackson, a Navy rear admiral, has served as the White House physician for President Donald Trump who nominated him for the high-level post last month.
Former VA Secretary David Shulkin was fired after an ethics scandal and mounting rebellion in the agency. But Jackson has since faced numerous questions from Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as veterans groups about whether he has the experience to manage the massive department of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.
At the Dayton VA Medical Center, which just welcomed a new director this month, the agency with 2,300 employees treats more than 40,000 veterans a year at the medical center and four community patient clinics.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told reporters last week before the latest concerns arose that Jackson told the senator he opposed privatization efforts of the VA, but he would have to convince veterans to earn Brown’s confirmation vote. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Shulkin wrote forces were at work to privatize the agency.
Jackson has been in charge of the White House medical unit since 2013 and served in the White House since 2006. In an interview with a Texas newspaper, he defended his qualification to lead the VA, the AP reported.
“I’ve been in leadership school for 23 years now … I’ve been confronted on a day-to-day basis with life and death decisions,” he told the Lubbock newspaper.
Trump has defended Jackson, but also said it was up to the admiral if he wanted to continue with the VA nomination.
A watchdog report requested in 2012 and reviewed by The Associated Press found that Jackson and a rival physician exhibited “unprofessional behaviors” as they engaged in a power struggle over the White House medical unit. The six-page report by the Navy’s Medical Inspector General found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members, who described the working environment as “being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce.”
“There is a severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership that has deteriorated to the point that staff walk on ‘eggshells,’” the assessment found.
The inspector general report reviewed by The AP included no references to improper prescribing of drugs or the use of alcohol, separate allegations revealed by a Senate committee.
Jackson declined to answer reporters’ questions about those allegations and gave no indication he would withdraw. The White House disputed that he had improperly administered medication, saying the medical unit passed regular audits by the Controlled Substance Inventory Board.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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