Infighting among the top ranks at the Department of Veterans Affairs has paralyzed the agency’s efforts to serve veterans, The Washington Post reported Friday.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s relationship with Trump appointees – who are members of his senior management team – has deteriorated to the point where he has canceled morning meetings with them and instead convenes only with aides he trusts, the paper reported.
The tension among the secretary and his senior staff, the Post reported, appears to be rooted in a fundamental disagreement in how to best care for the nation’s veterans: through the VA health care system run by the government or by pushing more of that care toward the private sector.
The paper’s account is based on interviews with 16 administration officials and other observers. CNN has not independently confirmed the paper’s reporting.
Shulkin has tried to get rid of six of his senior managers and has claimed this week that chief of staff John Kelly assured him that he has authority to fire them, the newspaper reported, adding that administration officials have disputed this.
He also met with Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter, who advises Trump on veterans issues, according to the Post. During a four-hour meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Shulkin sought Perlmutter’s approval to purge the VA of those who Shulkin considers obstacles to reforms, the Post reported.
The Post reported that aside from distrusting his senior staff, Shulkin has also faced threats following a blistering VA inspector general report that found he misused taxpayer funds during a trip to Europe.
Shulkin now has an armed guard positioned outside his office, two sources confirmed to CNN.
The dysfunction at the agency has stifled efforts to pass legislation to help veterans and a separate initiative to revamp the agency’s health-records system, observers told the paper.
Despite this, the White House signaled Wednesday that Shulkin still has the President’s backing.
CNN’s Juana Summers contributed to this report.