- Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, MD, has withdrawn as Trump’s VA secretary nominee, according to a public statement he released April 26.
Trump selected the presidential physician to lead VA shortly after former VA Secretary David Shulkin, MD, was fired. However, allegations surrounding Jackson’s professional conduct and managerial abilities surfaced soon after the nomination was announced.
"Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity,” Jackson said in a public statement, according to CNN.
Jackson stated he withdrew in part because the allegations had become a distraction from veterans’ healthcare issues.
"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," he said.
"While I will forever be grateful for the trust and confidence President Trump has placed in me by giving me this opportunity, I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Jackson continued.
Jackson’s confirmation hearing was initially set to take place on April 25, but the Senate decided to postpone the hearing after the allegations came to light.
Veterans’ service organization AMVETS called the confirmation hearing delay “the latest in an excruciating series of recent events that continue to undermine the best interest of veterans.”
“No matter whether these allegations against Dr. Jackson prove true or false, whether they continue to delay his confirmation indefinitely or sink it altogether, it’s the latest in a chain of unforced errors for which veterans are continuing to pay the price,” said AMVETS National Executive Director Joe Chenelly.
With Jackson no longer a candidate to take former VA Secretary Shulkin’s place, VA leadership remains in flux. The lack of permanent leadership at the department has partially contributed to delays in finalizing the VA Cerner EHR contract.
Former VA CIO Scott Blackburn and former VA Secretary David Shulkin both left the department in the past 30 days.
Blackburn stated at a recent Government Information Technology Executive Council summit that the contract should be signed in the next few months. However, Jackson’s decision to withdraw as VA secretary nominee may further delay contract negotiations.
VA Secures $1.2B in Funding For Cerner EHR Implementation in 2019
While VA contract negotiations with Cerner have likely been further stalled, the department has secured the necessary funding to support the project in 2019.
The House Appropriations Committee recently released its fiscal year 2019 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs (VA), and Related Agencies Appropriations bill and included $1.2 billion in funds for the VA Cerner EHR implementation.
“The bill contains $1.2 billion for the new VA electronic health record system,” the House Appropriations Committee wrote in a press release. “This will ensure the implementation of the contract creating an electronic record system for VA that is identical to one being developed for DOD.”
“These two identical systems will ensure our veterans get proper care, with timely and accurate medical data transferred between the VA, DOD, and the private sector,” continued the committee.
The legislation includes a total of $194.5 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding for VA — up $9 billion from fiscal year 2018.
“This funding will help address many of the problems currently facing VA, and provide for better and increased access to care for our veterans,” the committee wrote.
Discretionary funding for VA programs total $85.3 billion. About $70.7 billion of this discretionary funding was provided through advance funding in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill.
“Providing critical resources for the men and women of our Armed Services and their families is a top priority of the Committee and the White House,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen.
“We owe it to those who serve and fight for our freedom every day to ensure they have the necessary tools and support to do their jobs, and to give them the peace of mind that their families are well-cared for,” he continued.
The $1.2 billion in funding the committee will use to support VA’s Cerner EHR implementation project falls in line with a VA fiscal year 2019 budget request.
During a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing to discuss the budget request, House Military Construction and VA Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) revealed the cost of the EHR modernization project will amount to about $16 billion.
VA will utilize the $1.2 billion in funding to carry out the preparation, development, and implementation processes required to replace VA’s homegrown VistA system with the commercial Cerner EHR.
“The members of our subcommittee continue to demonstrate a strong, bipartisan commitment to the men and women in our armed services,” said Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Charlie Dent.
“We have worked to produce a bill that delivers on our promise to provide for the needs of those who have served our country and for those currently serving,” he concluded.