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Trump Picks David Shulkin, VA's Second In Command, to Lead the Department

by Countable | 3.20.17

Amid the flurry of Cabinet nominations in the weeks leading up to his inauguration, President Donald Trump consistently chose career politicians and private citizens who shared a low regard for the outgoing administration. So it came as something of a surprise when his pick to head Veterans Affairs turned out to be Dr. David Shulkin, fresh from just finishing a term as undersecretary of that very department for President Barack Obama. "I have no doubt Dr. Shulkin will be able to lead the turnaround our Department of Veterans Affairs needs," Trump said in a statement. “Dr. Shulkin has the experience and the vision to ensure we will meet the healthcare needs of every veteran.”

Who is David Shulkin?

Shulkin, 57, would become the first secretary of Veterans Affairs not to have served in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. The department was elevated to Cabinet status under President George H.W. Bush in 1989, replacing the Veterans Administration, whose roots traced back to 1930 and President Herbert Hoover.

Ironically, Shulkin was born on a Highland Park, IL, Army base, where his father, Capt. Mark Shulkin, was serving as a psychiatrist. David Shulkin grew up mostly in Bala Cynwyd, PA, after the family relocated to that affluent Main Line suburb of Philadelphia. His mother, Dr. Sunny Shulkin, is a psychotherapist specializing in relationship therapy, and his sister, Nedra, is also a practicing psychologist.

Shulkin graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, in 1982 with a science degree and received his M.D. in 1986 from the Medical College of Pennsylvania, now part of the Drexel University College of Medicine. He interned at Yale and completed his residency, in internal medicine, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, as did his father.

In 1991, Shulkin became the chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. He left in 1999 to found doctorquality.com, which allows patients to check a physician’s background. He returned to healthcare management three years later as chief quality officer at Drexel and chief medical officer at the Medical College of Pennsylvania. In 2004, he was named the chief medical officer for Temple University Hospital, and a year later he took over as president and CEO of New York City’s Beth Israel Medical Center.

Shulkin signed on in 2010 as president of New Jersey’s Morristown Medical Center, part of the Atlantic Health System. While there, he established 24-hour visiting hours, arguing that the change would help patients heal faster. His departure for the Veterans Affairs’ undersecretary post meant that he gave up $1.3 million in annual earnings for a $170,000-a-year government job.

Shulkin met his wife, Merle Bari, at Pitt, where she was doing her residency in dermatology. The couple lives in Gladwyne, PA, and has a daughter, Jennifer, and a son, Daniel.

What’s the outlook for his confirmation?

Strong. On the campaign trail, Trump criticized the overburdened VA, calling for a "public-private" option for health services. After the election, he was strongly lobbied to keep current VA Secretary Robert McDonald in the post. Instead, he’s siding with Shulkin, under whose stewardship the use of private doctors to treat veterans nearly doubled despite his resistance to further privatize the department.

Several veteran groups expressed relief upon hearing that Trump wanted to promote Shulkin, and the Democrats will undoubtedly view the doctor’s tenure in the Obama administration in a positive light. All of which may leave some Republicans questioning whether Trump has backed off his lofty overhaul plan for the VA. Still, it is expected that they will accede to his wishes and vote to confirm.

What does the Department of Veterans Affairs do?

It provides healthcare services, benefit programs and access to national cemeteries to more than 21 million ex-military personnel and their dependents. The department’s main subagencies are the Veterans Health Administration, the National Cemetery Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration, which administers the GI Bill. The department employs more than 300,000 people in hundreds of medical centers, nursing homes, benefit centers and national cemeteries, and its budget for Fiscal Year 2013 was $78.4 billion.

-- Erin Wright

(Photo Credit: Veterans Health / Creative Commons)

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(245)
  • Eric
    01/31/2017
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    I am a VA employee that urges you to votes Yes on David Shulkin. It is one of the only things I agree with from our current president.

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  • Lyssandra
    01/31/2017
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    Vote yes. He's not perfect. But he's far and away better than most of trumps nominees. I'll take a level headed republican over a white supremacist nazi every time.

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  • Smorosan
    02/02/2017
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    While I'm upset with most of President Trump's picks, Shulkin's career shows a patient-focused passion divorced from political agenda. He's also clearly given up opportunities for making money in the interest of public service. This is an area where the parties can and should reach across the aisle for compromise.

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  • Bill
    02/13/2017
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    Not the best choice, but lacks the baggage of other Cabinet picks. Sounds like we're reduced to approving if they aren't bad, instead of their potential for excellence, but I'm okay with this one.

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  • Kim
    01/31/2017
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    Please confirm Shulkin. He has experience and expertise in the department and while the administration should have left the current head in place as requested by numerous veterans' organizations, Shulkin is a good second choice. After so much change and challenges, the VA would benefit from a steady hand to keep bringing improvements.

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  • BTSundra
    01/31/2017
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    Well, he has experience, and hopefully he can start to fix the VA. Horrible care and long waits shouldn't be a partisan issue, support our vets!

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  • Abby
    02/01/2017
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    Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly, considering who we're dealing with), this is the only appointee I agree with. Shulkin has been serving as the Under Secretary for Health here at the VA for awhile now and will hopefully keep things the way he has so far. I work in public health research and Shulkin recognizes the value of our research efforts (and hopefully will continue to do so).

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  • Sharon
    02/05/2017
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    Good Lord, he finally makes logical choice for position. I support this pick for the VA.

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  • Brithowze
    02/01/2017
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    So far, this is the only Trump appointee who is actually qualified. The only objectionable thing about him is that he is a psychiatrist raised by a psychiatrist (lame joke). But, really, given the military's historic under treatment of mental illness, his background is a valuable asset for the VA system.

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  • Olivia
    02/01/2017
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    Shulkin will be a reasonable fit for the post. Please confirm him. I think it will benefit the VA to be headed by someone with a focus on psychiatry, who may work to remove the stigma in the military associated with receiving psychiatric help.

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  • Leslie
    01/31/2017
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    Vote no to Scott Pruitt. Enough with appointing people to important critical government agencies who want to destroy the agency they head. I side with 97% of scientists who say the climate is changing, and this change has to do with human activity. These changes will dramatically affect all of us eventually but more marginal people in our world first, those closer to subsistence level. Pruitt' positions will not only hasten ecological disaster, destroying vegetation and species but will impact human life dramatically, causing more hunger and significant survival challenges for many -- which means increased security risks for everyone. We cannot put an individual like this at the head of one of an agency that sets a direction with regard to the most critical challenges we face.

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  • Amber
    02/04/2017
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    This sounds like a seriously good pick. The VA would benefit from this leader. Save fighting for other choices. Say yes for this VA choice.

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  • Christine
    02/04/2017
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    Vote yes to Shulkin. I support his position of no privatization of the departments services and also support use of providers outside of VA facilities. Having worked for the VA for over 22 years, I observed many changes resulting in progress in treatment and support of our veterans. More needs to be done. Vets have to travel too far for services. They should be able to receive treatment and care where they live. More outpatient clinics, vocational and occupational rehabilitation!

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  • David
    02/05/2017
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    First reasonable pick.

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  • Ben
    01/30/2017
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    A cabinet member pick with actual experience and an understanding of the dept. that he has been asked to run. Pleasantly surprised by this choice. Vote this man right in!

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  • LibertarianLion
    01/30/2017
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    We should prioritize our vets over immigrants and illegals. I wonder if there's any "Sanctuary Cities" for the men and women who sacrificed everything so this app could exist.

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  • Djramos
    02/03/2017
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    He sounds good, the VA does need repairing as long as it is not privatized.

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  • Michelle
    01/30/2017
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    Vote yes to David Shulkin! He has the track record and experience to lead the VA!

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  • Verena
    02/01/2017
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    Vote yes. If veterans groups are happy about this, then so am I.

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  • JayinNC
    02/02/2017
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    As a disabled combat veteran I have had a great ex with my hospital and VA medical center in Salisbury, and Kernersville NC. But not so great in Fayetteville or Nashville and Detroit but with that said I would look at the individual medical centers. I agree that if you don't need to tear down a system that isn't ruin just need to focus and tweet a bit.

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