VA spokesman says Shulkin’s ‘sole focus’ on caring for veterans
A spokesman for embattled Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Wednesday there are “no personnel changes to announce” at the agency, amid mounting speculation that President Trump is preparing to remove Mr. Shulkin.
“President Trump has made clear that he expects the Department’s sole focus to be on providing quality care to America’s veterans who have sacrificed to keep this country free and safe,” said VA spokesman Curt Cashour.
Mr. Trump told friends in Florida last weekend that he plans to make more personnel changes in his administration soon. Trump friend Christopher Ruddy said he’s learned from other sources in the White House that the president plans to replace Mr. Shulkin, who was criticized in an inspector general’s report earlier this year for wasting taxpayer money on a trip to Europe with his wife last summer.
A White House spokesman said Monday that Mr. Trump has confidence in Mr. Shulkin “at this point in time.”
Some major veterans’ groups are expressing support for keeping Mr. Shulkin in the post.
Meanwhile, a new watchdog report this week showed that the VA employed thousands of workers at medical facilities without properly performing background checks.
The inspector general’s report released Monday blames the VA for employing about 6,200 workers over five years through 2016 who did not undergo background checks within the mandated first 14 days of their employment. The period was before Mr. Trump tapped Mr. Shulkin as secretary, although Mr. Shulkin also served as a VA undersecretary of health in the Obama administration from 2015 to 2017.
The IG report said some employees were on the job for years before a proper background check was completed, and during that time many had access to veterans’ personal information.
“Initiating background investigations in a timely manner is critical to mitigate the risk to [the Veterans Health Administration] and ensure that unsuitable staff may be removed during the probationary employment period,” the report said.
The backlog was blamed mismanagement and lack of accountability at the VA’s Operations, Security and Preparedness Office.
VA officials told investigators that they hope to reduce the backlog to 2,500 employees by October.