The firing of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin may seem like just another executive-branch departure. But for his efforts to reform a vast bureaucracy and better serve America’s 20 million veterans, Shulkin will be sorely missed. He may have himself to blame for a host of alleged ethical violations, although Shulkin contends he has been falsely accused by Washington partisans and veterans’ groups opposed to his reform efforts. What’s clear is that many of those efforts have been sensible and courageous. The next VA leader — Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, has been tabbed — should push ahead.
Shulkin supported a plan approved by Congress to privatize VA services, but was wary of moving too abruptly or drastically. Unfortunately, his pragmatism conflicted with a blind faith in privatization held by rivals in Donald Trump’s administration.
But this was not the only initiative Jackson would do well to continue. Shulkin carried on with earlier reforms to the department’s disability payment system, which has trapped many veterans in dependency. He stepped up measures to improve employee accountability, and to ensure deserving veterans urgent care. He reinvigorated the VA’s stalled effort to bring its record-keeping into the digital age.
The VA still needs to do a better job of vetting veterans who apply for care and disability payments. Consider that more than one-third of veterans who served since the Sept. 11 attacks have sought some form of remuneration, compared with just 21 percent of those who served during the Vietnam War. It’s one reason the department’s budget has ballooned to $200 billion.
Shulkin, the only holdover from the Obama administration in the Trump cabinet, persevered through a challenging if short term as VA secretary, attacked by foes from both political parties. Americans should thank him.
FROM AN EDITORIAL ON BLOOMBERG VIEW