A volley of misconduct accusations has trashed White House doctor Ronny Jackson’s reputation — and demolished his chance to lead the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The White House vows to clear his name. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump says he has a new candidate in mind with “political capability.”
We hope he delivers this time. Jackson, who had been Trump’s personal doctor, was a cipher on many of the important qualifications to run the VA, except for one essential prerequisite — fawning loyalty to the president. Jackson had never run a huge, unwieldy, famously dysfunctional and change-averse organization. He never encountered layers of management adept mainly at wasting money and asking for more.
Nor had Jackson weighed in publicly on the most important issue facing the agency: whether to accelerate the move to allow veterans more private choice in their health care. The last VA leader, David Shulkin, didn’t fully embrace the mission of expanding choice. He got the hook because of that reluctance — and mounting ethical troubles.
The next VA secretary needs deep experience not just in lassoing unruly bureaucrats but in rethinking how the VA could better deliver health care to vets. That care needs to be first-rate, but much of it is routine and doesn’t need to be delivered at a VA hospital or clinic.
Much of the care veterans seek at those facilities could easily be provided by local, private doctors and clinics. That’s a way to speed care to veterans but also to help focus the agency’s mission on the vets who need specialized care for combat-related injuries. That’s where many VA doctors excel. By contrast, any doc-in-the-box can do colonoscopies and prescribe statins.
Many vets now have greater choice under the Veterans Choice program created by Congress in 2014, after a scandal over long wait times at some VA facilities. The program is so popular that it is slated to run out of money by early June unless Congress acts. Lawmakers, don’t shortchange veterans. And don’t force them back into VA buildings for ordinary problems. Keep the Choice program running.
Beyond that, we’ve seen several smart congressional proposals to modernize the VA. One appealing idea: Update current eligibility standards so that vets can visit a private doctor even if they live close to a VA facility or don’t have to endure long wait times. That proposal and many others are stalled, awaiting a new VA leader with “political capability.”
The Jackson debacle is a warning to Trump staffers responsible for vetting candidates for this job: Be better prepared to defend the next nominee. Remember that this is the era of the #MeToo movement. Don’t bet on anyone’s deference — or silence — about past misconduct. More due diligence on the front end eliminates a White House reputation-salvaging operation on the back end.
Millions of veterans depend on the VA for their health care. The next VA secretary won’t have time to learn on the job. He or she will need to be battle-ready to make sure veterans get the quality of care they deserve, when and where they need it.
Often, that when-and-where should lead vets not to a VA facility, but to a nearby doctor of their choosing.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE