Trump’s VA pick tells Heller he won’t privatize vets’ medical care

Updated April 19, 2018 - 10:15 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs told Sen. Dean Heller on Thursday that he would not push for privatization of medical care for veterans and would meet with Nevada veterans if confirmed by the Senate.

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson met with Heller and other members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee in advance of a hearing on the nomination next week.

Senators have been skeptical of Jackson’s lack of managerial experience, despite being a White House physician for three presidents. Other lawmakers have voiced concerns that the Trump administration is seeking to privatize veterans’ health care.

Heller said he was not concerned about management experience, but the Nevada Republican raised the question of privatization with Jackson during a 25-minute meeting.

“He said he has no intention of privatizing the VA,” Heller told the Las Vegas Review-Journal following the meeting in his office.

Heller also said Jackson said he has not been directed by anyone in the administration on how to run the VA if he is confirmed by the full Senate.

Jackson told Heller he wants to improve care for veterans.

“He wants to make sure the veterans in Nevada and across the country have the same level of care that he gave to the last three presidents,” Heller said.

The senator said Jackson assured him he would go to Nevada and meet with veterans if he were confirmed. Jackson also said he backs programs popular in rural regions that allow veterans to get care from providers outside the VA system.

Heller said he would not say before the April 25 hearing whether he would vote to move the nomination out of committee. But he signaled early support of Jackson.

“I think there are misconceptions about him out there,” Heller said. “I don’t go into the hearings with any negative feelings.”

Trump’s firing of former VA Secretary David Shulkin and the nomination of his doctor, Jackson, prompted concerns among veterans. Shulkin said he was fired because he opposed privatization of health care for veterans.

The VA Office of the Inspector General released a report that said Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets during a weeklong work trip to Europe with his wife. The report said the trip cost taxpayers more than $122,000 and found that Shulkin spent most of the time sightseeing.

Jackson has spent the week meeting with lawmakers on the Senate committee.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat on the committee, met with Jackson on Tuesday. He also met with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

The panel is expected to question Jackson further about privatization during the confirmation hearing.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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