Ronny Jackson withdraws bid to lead US Department of Veteran Affairs | News | DW | 26.04.2018
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Ronny Jackson withdraws bid to lead US Department of Veteran Affairs

Ronny Jackson has been accused of routinely abusing alcohol on work trips and freely handing out drugs. Donald Trump has slammed Democrats as obstructionists who are politicizing his nominees.

US President Donald Trump's doctor, Ronny Jackson, withdrew from his bid to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs office on Thursday, following prolonged controversy over alleged alcohol abuse and over-prescription of drugs.

Veterans groups wield considerable political clout in the US and have been dismayed by continued disarray at the department, despite Trump's campaign promises to improve veterans care.

Read more: Trump fires Veterans Affairs boss David Shulkin, names White House physician Ronny Jackson as replacement

Jackson's rise and fall

  • The US Navy rear admiral, physician to three consecutive presidents, came to wider prominence in January when he gave an unusally glowing account of Trump's health.
  • In late March, Trump fired then-VA chief David Shulkin over unauthorized travel expenses and nominated Jackson as his replacement.
  • Concerns were immediately raised over his lack of experience.
  • On Wednesday — the day of his confirmation hearing — Senate Democrats released a litany of allegations on alcohol abuse, poor behavior and lax drug prescription.
  • The Senate committee considering his nomination postponed the hearing indefinitely, leading to Jackson withdrawing his bid.

Read more: US President Donald Trump 'healthy' with perfect cognitive score, says doctor

'False accusations'

Jackson said in a statement: "The allegations against me are completely false and fabricated ... Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this president and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes."

Trump called into "Fox & Friends" morning show after the announcement and said: "These are all false accusations. They're trying to destroy a man." He said Jon Tester, the Democrat who led the push against Jackson, "has a big price to pay." 

Marc Short, the White House legislative director also lashed at Tester, saying "it's quite unusual for a United States senator to take allegations that have not been fully investigated, but to flaunt them to the national public to suggest he's the 'candyman' I think is outrageous."

National commander of The American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization, said the group was "very concerned about the current lack of permanent leadership."

The director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said: "VA's reputation is damaged, staff is demoralized, momentum is stalled and the future is shockingly unclear."

Read more: US president's nomination for CIA director, Gina Haspel, draws criticism

A series of departures: Jackson's withdrawal is the latest road bump in a tumultous administration, which has experienced an unusually high number of firings and resignations. Earlier this month House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan announced he would leave his post at the start of 2019 ahead of congressional elections. Ryan's departure in particular led to Republican concerns about their prospects with US voters in November.

Read more: Is Paul Ryan's exit an ominous sign for Trump's Republican Party?

What was Jackson accused of? Democratic staff on the committee considering his nomination released a document citing "conversations with 23 colleagues and former colleagues." The document alleged Jackson doled out drugs to staffers like the "candy man," prescribed himself medications, got drunk at a Secret Service party then wrecked a government vehicle, and once could not be reached on a work trip to provide medical treatment because he was passed out drunk in a hotel room. Democrats also alleged he knew how to please his bosses but treated his underlings very poorly.

What does the department do? The agency oversees healthcare and benefits for America's 20 million military veterans. It has more than 350,000 employees and runs 1,700 facilities seeing 9 million veterans a year. Trump had pledged to overhaul the agency, which has been criticized for the quality of its care and vast red tape. Of particular concern are its shortcomings in psychiatric care for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Next step: Trump has not revealed who will be his next nominee, but the White House suggested that Jackson would remain in his current post of presidential physician.

aw/rt (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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