Who Is Ronny L. Jackson? The White House Doctor Is Trump's New Veterans Affairs Secretary
President Trump announced Wednesday that the latest official to leave his administration will be Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin. Per Trump's announcement, Shulkin will be replaced by Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, an active duty Navy physician who Trump has appointed to fill the slot at the VA.
You may recall seeing Jackson's name a few news cycles back, when Trump went in for his first formal medical exam as president. Jackson was the doctor who oversaw that exam, and he gave the president a clean bill of health. Trump has "great genes," Jackson said, although he added that the president could stand to lose 10 to 15 pounds.
Trump wasn't the first president Jackson examined: He joined the White House's medical unit in 2006, and Barack Obama appointed him physician to the president in 2013.
A native of Levelland, Texax, Jackson attended Texas A&M and the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology and a Doctor of Medicine, respectively. He then joined the Navy, where he specialized in emergency medicine. Jackson went on to serve instructor at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Florida, diving medical officer at Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 8 in Sigonella, Italy, and diving safety officer at the Naval Safety Center in Norfolk, according to his Navy biography.
In 2004, Jackson was assigned to the clinical faculty in the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, and was deployed to Iraq a year later. In Iraq, Jackson was the emergency medicine physician in charge of resuscitative medicine for a Surgical Shock Trauma Platoon. Jackson is highly decorated, having been awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal and several other distinctions during his time in the armed services.
After examining Trump in January, Jackson told reporters that "the president is very healthy and will remain so for the duration of his presidency." Jackson also said that Trump achieved a perfect score on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, a test meant to measure age-related cognition conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's.
"The president is very sharp and articulate," Jackson said at the time. "I've never known him to repeat himself around me. I have no reason whatsoever to think that the president has an issue with his thought process."
When Trump appointed Shulkin, who previously served as undersecretary of health under Obama, to lead the VA in 2017, he said that he'd never have to use his trademark "you're fired" phrase on the incoming cabinet secretary.
"We'll never have to use those words on our David," Trump said in June. "We will never use those words on you. That's for sure."
The circumstances of Shulkin's departure aren't clear, as Trump merely said that he "intend[s] to nominate" Jackson as the "new Secretary of Veterans Affairs." The president said in his announcement that he is "thankful for Dr. David Shulkin’s service to our country."
But although Shulkin did implement some well-received reforms to the VA during his tenure, such as the establishment of a 24-hour hotline for veteran complains, his standing in the Trump White House eventually soured. In February, an investigation by the the VA's Inspector General found "serious derelictions" in Shulkin's duty during a trip to Europe. According to the Inspector General's report, Shulkin misled ethics officials at the agency as to the nature of the visit in order to allocate airfare for his wife, and only spent half of the taxpayer-funded trip on official business. Shulkin's lawyers say that the secretary "did nothing wrong" during the Europe trip, and called the IG's report "highly flawed, both factually and legally."
Trump said Wednesday that Robert Wilkie will serve as the acting VA chief until Jackson is confirmed.