WASHINGTON (TNS) — David Shulkin, removed days ago as secretary of Veterans Affairs, said political appointees had engineered his ouster as they push for "more aggressive" changes to how the sprawling department is run.
"I did not resign," Shulkin said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." In a separate interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," he said: "There would be no reason for me to resign. I made a commitment, I took an oath, and I was here to fight for our veterans."
The manner of Shulkin's departure — a resignation or a firing — may have implications for how President Donald Trump can fill the position.
Trump announced Shulkin's ouster Thursday in a Twitter message, in which he said he was nominating White House physician Ronny L. Jackson to head the department, which is second in size only to the Defense Department.
Shulkin has warned that service members and their families could get less care if the agency goes ahead with plans to broaden its use of the private sector.
The Veterans Affairs Department operates 145 hospitals, 300 veterans' centers and more than 1,200 outpatient sites, according to a fact sheet on the department's website. Veterans can visit non-VA health care facilities if they face delays or travel burdens, though Shulkin has warned that the program to pay for it is projected to run out of funding in May.
In a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday, Shulkin said he was fired after losing a "brutal power struggle" by balking at proposals for privatizing VA care. The effort is being pushed by Trump appointees and a group called Concerned Veterans of America that's backed by billionaire right-wing Republican donors Charles and David Koch.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Sunday on CNN that Shulkin's ouster was part of a "massive effort" by the Trump administration to privatize federal government operations. Sanders, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he'll do anything he can to reject a nominee who plans to privatize the VA.
Shulkin said he believes the best way to improve the Veterans Administration is to work closely with Congress and with veterans groups. "I've always had a very good relationship with President Trump," Shulkin said, adding that political appointees created a "difficult environment."