President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs withdrew from consideration Thursday, following accusations that he behaved inappropriately while serving as White House physician.
Reports surfaced this week claiming Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson had dispensed medications improperly, created a hostile work environment, and crashed a government vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
Jackson denied wrongdoing Thursday morning:
"Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity," he said in a statement.
Veterans at San Antonio’s Audie Murphy VA Hospital had mixed reactions to Jackson’s withdrawal.
Ramon Davila, a retired Army veteran, said he initially questioned Jackson’s readiness for the job, but that the allegations against him are a deal breaker.
“He’s got to go,” Davila said. “It’s a non-starter. No experience. All the luggage he’s bringing in — if it’s true — is a distraction. It should’ve been a straightforward process. You have to check who you’re going to nominate before you put him in charge of the second largest organization in the federal government.”
But for Air Force veteran and VA hospital patient Robert Burnett, the accusations against Jackson don’t hold water.
“Everything appeared to be anonymous sources, nothing that could be nailed down,” he said. “It was basically the Washington rumor mill, as far as validity or ability to fact check it.”
Burnett said he believes the VA secretary position to be mostly political and administrative in nature, and that Jackson would have excelled in making necessary connections on Capitol Hill.
“He was more than capable of doing that and everything else is handled at lower levels of staff,” he said.
Jackson is the seventh nominee for VA secretary since 9/11. Marine Corps veteran Dennis McNamara has seen all of them come and go. He said he didn’t expect Jackson’s withdrawal, and that it’s another hit for an overwhelmed VA system.
“He seemed like he had some potential, but you surprised me when you said he stepped down today,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that the leadership has to be changed so often.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan offered two possible choices for the next VA secretary: Representative Phil Roe of Tennessee, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and former congressman Jeff Miller of Florida, a past chairman of that committee.
Carson Frame can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @carson_frame