Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he would name David Shulkin to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"And by the way, speaking of veterans, I appointed today the head secretary of the Veterans Administration, David Shulkin," Trump said during a wide-ranging press conference, adding, "He's fantastic. He will do a truly great job."
Shulkin currently serves as undersecretary for health at the VA, and his appointment marks a rare gesture to maintain government continuity under the new administration.
According to his bio, Shulkin currently leads the the Veterans Health Administration, serving nearly 9 million veterans each year. Prior to being nominated by President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the Senate in June 2015, Shulkin served as president of Morristown Medical Center, Gorybe Children's Hospital, and Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute, and the Atlantic Health System Accountable Care Organization.
A board-certified internist and a fellow of the American College of Physicians, Shulkin would be the first non-veteran to ever serve as VA secretary, according to the Military Times.
Trump announced his intention to nominate Shulkin during his first news conference as president-elect. He vowed to "straighten out the VA," whose health care system will be designated a "high risk" issue by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office in a forthcoming report, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Issued every two years, the GAO's "high risk" list identifies troubled federal programs that could cause significant problems due to waste, fraud, mismanagement or structural flaws, according to the AP.
In a statement, the non-partisan veterans group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) hailed the prospect of continuity at the VA, while voicing strong concerns about having a non-veteran lead the department for the first time in history.
"We are optimistic about the nomination of Dr. Shulkin by the President-elect," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA. "He is well known to us, a man of character and has been a trusted partner of IAVA at VA. However, his selection is unprecedented. Our membership overwhelmingly supported the selection of a veteran for this critical leadership position."
Jon Soltz, Iraq War veteran and chair of the nonpartisan group VoteVets.org, also released a statement championing Trump's acknowledgement that "President Obama appointed good people at the VA." However, Soltz added, "for Dr. Shulkin to gain our support, he must verify, under oath, that he will not implement any plan that would lead to full VA privatization — as Trump's Koch funded advisers laid out during the campaign."