White House meets with veterans groups amid dispute at VA, tension over access to health care
By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told top veterans advocates Monday that President Trump supports Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, whose future in the administration was called into question this month amid a power struggle among political appointees, according to people who participated in the discussion.
The meeting was arranged by Kelly following revelations that Shulkin, the only Obama-era holdover in Trump’s Cabinet, had become a target of conservatives hoping to install a new secretary who would be more supportive of their plan to expand health-care options beyond the VA system — a controversial program known as Choice. Leading advocacy groups, including the American Legion, the VFW and the Disabled Veterans of America, fear the goal is to dismantle VA, and they view Shulkin as an ally in that standoff.
Garry Augustine, who heads DAV’s Washington headquarters, said the groups emphasized to Kelly their belief that Shulkin won’t be effective unless VA’s leadership team is united behind him. Kelly, a retired Marine general, appeared “gracious and intent on listening” to their feedback on how far the administration should go in offering private health-care options, Augustine said.
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