Senators delay VA confirmation hearing
Washington – A watchdog report ordered in 2012 by Dr. Ronny Jackson – President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs – found that he and a rival physician exhibited “unprofessional behaviors” as they engaged in a power struggle over the White House medical unit.
The report, reviewed Tuesday by The Associated Press, suggested the White House consider replacing Jackson or Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman – or both. Kuhlman was the physician to President Barack Obama at the time, and had previously held the role Jackson held at the time: director of the White House Medical Unit.
The six-page report by the Navy’s Medical Inspector General found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members, who described the working environment as “being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce.”
“There is a severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership that has deteriorated to the point that staff walk on ‘eggshells,’” the report found.
President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that Jackson, his pick for VA secretary, might want to withdraw. Jackson has been hurt by the emergence of allegations about inappropriate workplace behavior, including over-prescribing prescription drugs and drinking on the job.
The inspector general report reviewed by The AP includes no references to improper prescribing or the use of alcohol.
According to the report, Jackson admitted he had failed to shield the White House medical unit from the leadership drama. He is quoted saying he was willing to do what was necessary to straighten out the command, even if it “meant finding a new position in Navy Medicine.”
The report stated that the “vast majority” of those interviewed said Kuhlman had “irrevocably damaged his ability to effectively lead.” It added that “many also believe that CAPT Jackson has exhibited poor leadership,” but attributed those failures to the relationship with Kuhlman.
The report quoted unnamed members of the White House medical unit who, while participating in a focus group, used phrases like “Worst command ever,” “No one trusts anyone” and “The leaders are child-like.”
Jackson was named Physician to the President in 2013, after Kuhlman left the unit entirely.
Trump said Tuesday he would stand behind Jackson, calling the White House doctor “one of the finest people that I have met.” But he questioned why Jackson would want to put up with the scrutiny, which he characterized as unfair.
“I wouldn’t do it,” Trump said. “What does he need it for? What do you need this for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country?”
He said Jackson would make a decision soon.
Associated Press writers Hope Yen, Lisa Mascaro, Catherine Lucey, Alan Fram and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.