Dr. David Shulkin, the current secretary of veterans affairs and the only Democrat in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, has done fairly well running the VA. At a signing ceremony for veterans legislation in June, Trump said of Shulkin, “We’ll never have to use those words [‘You’re fired’] on our David.”
Eight months later, that declaration may prove ironic. Fissures have emerged and deepened between Shulkin and the president’s political allies over what, exactly, the VA should be doing. On top of this, two relatively minor scandals involving Shulkin have blown up his tenure and stalled major reform. Now, Shulkin faces conflict on three overlapping fronts, leaving him at the precipice of being fired and replaced by a closer Trump ally as the administration seeks to reduce the chaos in its Cabinet.
The first battle Shulkin is fighting has deep roots in veterans population demographics and the evolution of VA benefits over the past several decades. From the time they join up to their moment of discharge, service members belong to the Department of Defense. After that, they become eligible for a broad array of veterans programs that are administered by the VA’s three large administrations: health, benefits, and cemeteries. These programs have evolved from stingy pensions for seriously disabled veterans after the Revolution to the generous, comprehensive system of health care, disability compensation, and economic programs that exists today. All eligible veterans—meaning primarily those who serve on active duty and leave with an honorable discharge—can avail themselves of these benefits, not just combat veterans or those who were wounded in the line of duty.
Read the full op-ed on Slate.