Shulkin unanimously confirmed to head Veterans Affairs
David J. Shulkin, an internist and longtime health administrator, was unanimously confirmed Monday to lead the troubled Veterans Affairs Department, becoming the first of President Trump’s Cabinet picks to be embraced by all Republicans and Democrats. He is the sole holdover from the Obama administration. No senators dissented on Shulkin’s nomination in a rare show of bipartisanship following contentious battles over other Trump Cabinet selections. Shulkin’s approval makes him the 11th high-ranking Trump official to be confirmed by the Senate.
The 57-year-old Pennsylvania native will run the second-largest federal agency after serving 18 months as undersecretary for health in charge of VA’s sprawling medical system, which takes care of nearly 9 million veterans a year. After a long search for a leader who could turn around a system Trump denounced on the campaign trail as a tragic failure, the president surprised critics by turning inside rather than outside for a VA leader. Just before the vote, the leading lawmakers on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee urged their colleagues to put aside the partisanship that has defined the confirmation battles so far. “Let’s find out if there’s one thing we can agree on,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), the committee chairman. Anticipating critics nervous that the Trump administration will turn VA over to the private sector, Isakson said, “We don’t want to privatize VA. We want to make it work.” Shulkin will be the first secretary who did not serve in the military, a status that has disappointed some veterans groups but did not disqualify him from what proved to be one of Trump’s most difficult Cabinet searches. Despite his relatively quick and trouble-free nod from lawmakers, Shulkin has a tall order from the president. He needs to show Trump that he can bring big changes to VA to make employees more accountable for misconduct and give veterans faster access to private doctors when they prefer outside care.
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