President Donald Trump on Thursday made his first public comments on his decision to oust David Shulkin, the head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, saying that he did so because he “wasn’t happy” with the speed of veteran care.
Trump also said he wanted veterans to “have real choice” in their health care.
The President, who announced that he was nominating White House physician Ronny Jackson in a tweet on Thursday, also said that he wanted veterans to have the ability to “run to a private doctor.”
“We are going to have real choice. That is why I made some changes, because I wasn’t happy with the speed with which our veterans were taken care of,” Trump said during a speech in Ohio. “I wasn’t happy with it. And we have made a lot of progress.”
Veterans groups and lawmakers have expressed concerns that Shulkin’s departure will pave the way for a stronger push for government subsidized private care for the roughly 9 million veterans that VA serves.
“We made changes because we want them taken care of, we want them to have choice so that they can run to a private doctor. And take care of it. And it’s going to get done,” Trump said Thursday.
Shulkin, in a New York Times op-ed published after his dismissal, took a strong stand against privatizing care for veterans, saying that the private sector was “ill-prepared to handle the number and complexity of patients that would come from closing or downsizing V.A. hospitals and clinics.”
He also said that the department’s understanding of veterans’ needs and its research “cannot be easily replicated in the private sector.”
It is unclear what Jackson’s stance is on privatization.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told reporters traveling with the President on Thursday that Trump has “full confidence” in Jackson, but that “there is no intent at this point to privatize the VA.”
Trump also heralded the passage of the Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which passed Congress with broad support last year, and was meant to make it easier for the department to remove bad employees and promote whistleblowing. At the time, Shulkin said the legislation represented a major change for the agency and would make it easier for him to fire problematic workers.
“They had sadists that treated our vets horribly, horribly, worse than a movie. They had people that wouldn’t work – you couldn’t do anything,” Trump said. “Now when they’re bad to our vets or they’re not working for our vets, we say, ‘Hey Jim, you’re fired. Get out of here Jim, get out.’ “
At the same White House event at which Trump signed that legislation, with Shulkin by his side, he joked that he’d never have to use “The Apprentice” tagline “you’re fired,” about Shulkin.