Embattled Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin will be replaced by President Trump’s personal doctor, the president announced in a surprise pair of tweets Wednesday.
Robert Wilkie, currently the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, will be the acting secretary until Ronny Jackson, an active-duty Navy doctor appointed to the White House job by Barack Obama, takes over.
The news of Shulkin’s departure, first reported by Reuters, follows a lengthy silence from the White House on the VA chief, who was recently the subject of a damning inspector general report detailing Shulkin’s misuse of funds during a trip to Europe. On Monday, deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters he had “no personnel announcements to make at this time,” when asked about the president’s relationship with Shulkin, according to the Times, though it’s not clear when the decision was actually made.
It was also unclear whether Shulkin was officially informed about the changeover before the president’s tweets, which preceded any official announcement from the White House or the Department of Veterans Affairs. If he was not, however, he’s not alone. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson only learned he was fired when the president sent out a tweet on the morning of March 13 thanking him for his service.
Veterans groups have largely been supportive of Shulkin, who ran the government’s second-largest agency for a little over a year. John Hoellwarth, a spokesman for AMVETS, a prominent veteran advocacy organization, told the Washington Post on Wednesday, “Imagine how daunting it must be to take this complex, massive job in an administration that seems to enjoy firing people.”
Vice President Mike Pence also issued a statement on Twitter, congratulating Jackson and thanking Shulkin for his work as secretary.
The Department of Veterans Affairs did not immediately respond to VICE News' request for comment.
Shulkin preferred to focus on reforming the agency, pushing against efforts from conservatives to capitalize on scandals to privatize veteran health care. And while he initially enjoyed a good relationship with the White House, in recent months, his differences put him increasingly at odds with the president and his top aides.
The March inspector general report revealing “serious derelictions” in the misuse of department funds in Europe would become perfect ammunition to take down the secretary.
The Trump administration has undergone “record-setting” turnover, more than triple than the Obama administration, and double Ronald Reagan’s — the runner-up, according to a Brookings Institute study.
Several names are currently floating as potential replacements for Shulkin, including, most notably, Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
Cover image: WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson speaks to reporters during the daily briefing in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)