Isakson right on Veterans Affairs’ Leadership

Published 7:27 pm Sunday, May 6, 2018

I was considering waiting until Memorial Day for this column, but I don’t think it can wait.  Georgia GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson is being attacked by some in politics over the failure of Trump’s nominee to secure the Veterans’ Affairs’ top post. Instead of putting politics first, Sen. Isakson chose to back our nation’s veterans instead, knowing the backlash he would reap for doing so. And I am proud of the courage he showed in the process, which we need more of in Washington D.C. these days.

President Trump fired the prior head of the VA Department, David Shulkin, over claims that he took unauthorized travel, even though EPA Director Scott Pruitt has committed far worse misuses of taxpayer money and former Georgia GOP Congressman Dr. Tom Price of HHS was similarly ousted, though he did far less than what Pruitt has done to betray the public trust. 

When President Donald Trump nominated Admiral Ronny Jackson to be the new head of the Veterans’ Affairs department, eyebrows were raised among several veterans groups, because of how little experience he had in management. Nine million veterans are cared for by the VA, and the department has a budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars. 

But the former White House physician was the darling of the Oval Office, and that seemed to matter more. Details began to emerge about Jackson’s personal life, as well as his performance as the White House physician. And those concerns were bipartisan, as both Sen. John Tester (a Montana Democrat) and Mike Pence’s physician expressed alarm about the nominee. There are even reports that such behavior was only the tip of the iceberg. Jackson withdrew his nomination.

Trump decided someone deserved his wrath for Jackson’s failed nomination bid.  He demanded Senator Tester resign, and already a pro-Trump PAC started running ads claiming that the Montana Democrat lied, though there’s currently no evidence that he did.

But when Sen. Isakson came to Tester’s defense on the decision to make the information public, he earned the president’s ire, even though a Senior White House Official privately conceded their candidate had been inadequately vetted for the job, according to The Daily Beast.

Sticking up for Tester, against Trump’s pick, couldn’t have been an easy task for the Georgia Air National Guard veteran. But the VA candidate lacked experience, and had serious questions about his judgement and connection to opioids that could not be avoided. Isakson did what needed to be done for veterans, and that should have been the main focus all along.

In fact, Trump could have easily renominated Jackson, sticking to his guns, offering his proof that the reports were a pack of lies. He could have welcomed Jackson back as White House physician, as Jackson was only gone the shortest of times. But Trump chose not to do so. Such actions, or inaction, from the president speaks louder than words and tweets.

The next nominee better have a lot more management experience, along with the proper temperament to operate the second largest government agency. That should matter more than how chummy the individual is with the Executive Branch. And any plan the White House has for privatization of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs that might charge veterans more or bilk the taxpayers for a lot of excess money in the process should be investigated by Congress and scrapped, just like the ill-fated VA nomination.