Despite his active duty status as a Navy rear admiral (lower half) and his medical experience, veterans service organizations are responding cautiously to the nomination of Dr. Ronny Jackson for secretary of Veterans Affairs, with some expressing concern about his lack of managerial experience or what his views are on reforming the VA.
Jackson has served as White House Physician in the past three administrations and in January gave President Donald Trump a glowing health review. Recently, Trump nominated Jackson to receive a second star, promoting him to the rank of full rear admiral. Jackson has deployed to Iraq as an emergency medicine physician in charge of resuscitative medicine for a forward-deployed Surgical Shock Trauma Platoon.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an organization serving the post-9/11 generation of veterans, say it looks "forward to learning more about Dr. Ronny Jackson’s vision and qualifications.” The statement underscores the fact that Jackson lacks significant managerial experience as he is poised to lead the government’s second largest agency, which cares for more than nine million veterans and has an annual budget of nearly $200 billion.
“Nobody really knows who is he. Is he an empty vessel? Does he have strong views on privatization, or reforming the VA?” asked IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff during an appearance on CNN Thursday morning. “So the confirmation hearings are going to be really really important. The Senate, House, time for you guys to step up and grill this guy and find out if he is qualified to not only run the agency but care for our veterans in a time of war.”
IAVA welcomed the news that “finally puts an end to weeks of painful speculation that was negatively impacting VA and veterans nationwide,” referring to media reports that President Trump had lost confidence in Secretary Shulkin. IAVA pointed out that in a recent survey, only 24% of the organization’s members approved of the job Shulkin was doing.
Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) echoed IAVA’s hesitation about Jackson’s experience. “The VFW will be closely monitoring the Senate confirmation process, because what Dr. Jackson’s bio does not reflect is any experience working with the VA or with veterans, or managing any organization of size, much less one as multifaceted as the Department of Veterans Affairs,” VFW Director of Communications Joe Davis said in a statement.
The conservative group Concerned Veterans for America expressed more optimism about the change, saying in a statement “We are hopeful that this change will end the recent distractions at the VA and put the focus back on advancing policy that will ensure veterans get the health care and other benefits they have earned. The Trump administration has made great progress over the last year reforming and fixing the VA, however, there is still much work to be done.”
The American Legion declined to comment directly on Jackson’s qualifications. Instead, the group highlighted their intention to work “directly with the President through this transition and going forward, and providing him an increased level of advice and feedback on the issues important to America’s veterans.”