The terms of Shulkin’s departure could have an impact on President Donald Trump’s ability to pick a replacement, as some legal experts believe federal law could limit the president’s ability to fill the position if Shulkin did not resign. Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday that his White House physician, Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, would be appointed to the role.
Shulkin said he found out about his dismissal in a phone call from White House chief of staff John Kelly shortly before the tweet was sent.
“He just simply said that the president had decided that he needed to make a change,” Shulkin said.
Shulkin said he spoke with Trump mere hours before the tweet was sent, and that the call did not leave him with any impression that he was about to be ousted.
“We talked a lot about issues the VA that were important and how we could continue to make progress on policy issues,” he said. “In fact, we had set up a meeting for the very next day where I was going to meet with him at 11 in the morning.”
The decision on new VA leadership, Shulkin said, was “somewhat of a surprise.”
Trump told an audience in Ohio last week that he wanted to make changes at the agency in favor of “real choice,” and because he “wasn’t happy with the speed with which our veterans were taken care of.”
Rumors of Shulkin’s departure had swirled around Washington for weeks, and the VA — a sprawling agency of 370,000 employees and the second-largest department in the federal government — has faced criticism on wait times, caseload and more for many years.