While the media firestorm swirls around President Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, a retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant and leading advocate for veterans is holding an open mind on Dr. Ronny Jackson while passionate prodding the VA to do better in caring for those who have served this nation in uniform.
This week, the media began reporting on allegations that Jackson excessively prescribed painkillers for government officials and was seen drunk in public.
Jessie Jane Duff served 20 years on active duty in the Marine Corps. She is now with the London Center for Policy Research. She says if the allegations are a big problem if true, but she says Jackson’s determination to proceed with the nomination speaks volumes, especially after President Trump opened the door for him to exit the process.
“I would suspect that if he himself knew that these things were true, he would not want to go forward and get embarrassed during any type of confirmation. That, to me, would be very much a no-brainer. Who wants to go up there and get humiliated?” asked Duff.
While reserving judgment in case the allegations prove true and admitting she’s a bit concerned due to Jackson’s lack of a track record, Duff wants to be sure these attacks are not just the product of partisanship.
“I didn’t have an opportunity to look at the allegations and who the senators were that were reviewing them. I’m curious if they were Democrats. The reason I say that is that they simply didn’t have a problem with Ronny Jackson being the physician to President Obama. Now he’s being nominated by President Trump. Sometimes I smell a rat when dealing with the swamp in D.C,” said Duff.
Critics are also concerned that Jackson doesn’t have the typical pedigree seen in VA secretaries. Duff says plenty of perfectly qualified secretaries were failures.
“We haven’t had the best of luck with a lot of our VA secretaries, so I’m open-minded at this point. I think many men have gone in there with vast experience but incapable of dealing with the Washington bureaucracy. We are talking about the second largest agency in the federal government. It’s second only to the Department of Defense,” said Duff.
Duff says there are some things the VA does very well, like dealing with prosthetics and treatment for post-traumatic stress and other medical conditions most often seen in veterans.
But other basic care for veterans is still not where it should be.
“There are many, many locations throughout the Veterans Administration, with their hospitals, where people have been waiting for cancer treatments beyond what we would normally expect if they were on a regular insurance provider,” said Duff.
She is encouraged that the VA is making strides in allowing veterans to access private sector care but she says many physicians are reluctant to take on a lot of veterans as patients because the government is often very slow to reimburse them and provides only a fraction of what those doctors could make treating other patients.
After 15 months of the Trump administration, Duff says some hard realities are being learned and important progress is being made.
“You just cannot imagine how difficult it is to get change in Washington because of these bureaucracies that have been embedded, systems that are very difficult to change overnight. It takes diligence and lots and lots of perseverance. I didn’t expect dramatic changes in 15 months, but I did expect to see changes in the right direction.
“The fact they’ve been working on firing those employees that have been defaulted in their responsibilities for those veterans, that’s a huge win for me. We’re still working on the private care. We have made accomplishments in that area, and that’s a huge win for me. But nowhere are we done with this battle. This war has been going for awhile with the Veterans Administration,” said Duff.