By Debbie Gregory.
Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the president’s appointed White House physician who drew national attention when he complimented President Trump on his “incredibly good genes,” has been tapped to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs — pending approval by the Senate.
This leadership post has been described as one of the most difficult jobs in government, one which has stymied generals, CEOs and health care executives. Here’s a rundown of by the numbers:
- More than 1,243 health care facilities:
These Veterans Health Administration facilities include 170 VA Medical Centers, and 1,063 outpatient sites — making it the largest health care system in the United States.
- 9,000,000 veterans:
That’s the number of veterans who receive medical care from VA, and many of these patients are older and suffer from multiple traumas and injuries that require specialized care: amputations, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, and as of 2013, half of all VA patients suffer from chronic pain, to name just a few. And as many as 2 million patients receive in-facility care, according to an American Legion statement.
- 20,000,000 veterans in the United States:
This is an estimation. There could be many more, since an individual’s military history isn’t tracked by the census bureau, which is a concern since the VA relies on headcount of its target population to get a feel for the size and scope of the services it needs to provide.
- $10,000,000,000 contract for Electronic Health Records:
A long-term plan to modernize the VA’s health records system could be jeopardy, with Shulkin’s dismissal coming just as the VA was set to finalize the acquisition of a new electronic health record system.
- Second largest federal agency:
The only one bigger is the Department of Defense.
- $186,000,000,000 budget:
For fiscal year 2018.
- 60,000 employees:
Spread across three separate administrations within the department; the Veterans Health Administration, Veterans Benefit Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration.
- 23 years active duty:
Rear Admiral Jackson’s Navy career began in 1995, and includes postings as an instructor, diving medical officer, diving safety officer, from Panama City, Florida Sigonella, Italy, to Norfolk, Virginia. By 2005 he deployed to Taqaddum, Iraq as part of a Surgical Shock Trauma platoon. While still in Iraq in 2006, Jackson was selected as a White House physician and served as the supervising physician for the Camp David Presidential Retreat under the George W. Bush administration. Later he led the White House Medical Unit as its director and was the appointed White House physician for Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
In four years there have been seven VA Secretaries – the department has been beset by turmoil and scandal. Eric Shinseki resigned from his post as VA chief following the 2014 wait-list scandal the department. Since then, the VA has gone through three sitting secretaries, and is on its third acting secretary, with Robert Wilkie, previously the Pentagon’s undersecretary of personnel and readiness, now tasked as the interim chief until Shulkin’s replacement is approved by the Senate.
Although the VA is about more than healthcare, we need to provide the best health care and mental health care to our veterans. The VA also helps those who have written a blank check to our nation, up to and including their lives, execute the benefits they have earned. This includes employment, education, entrepreneurship, disability, aid and attendance and much more. One size does not fit all veterans.