Georgia vets have high hopes for Trump’s surprise VA pick

Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician , discusses President Donald Trump's health in Jan. 2018. Trump said he plans to nominate Jackson to lead the VA earlier this week. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

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Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician , discusses President Donald Trump's health in Jan. 2018. Trump said he plans to nominate Jackson to lead the VA earlier this week. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

President Donald Trump's ousting of VA Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday raised some eyebrows on Capitol Hill, where the former hospital administrator remained a relatively well-liked figure. But Shulkin's firing did not make as many waves among some veterans in Georgia.

“Personally, I slept well last night,” said Alfred Lipphardt, a U.S. Army veteran from Stone Mountain who visited the Georgia Capitol on Thursday.

The Vietnam War veteran said he was cautiously optimistic about Ronny Jackson, the Navy rear admiral and longtime White House physician whom Trump said he'd nominate to replace Shulkin. Democrats have raised questions about Jackson's lack of management experience.

“I hope as a veteran he remembers his values of integrity, honor and respect,” Lipphardt said of Jackson. “He needs to take care of those who served our nation. Promises were made and they need to be kept. Our healthcare benefits keep getting watered down. You can’t just take money out of one pot for veterans and put them in another pot.”

Earl Lewis, a U.S. Army veteran who fought in the Korean War, chimed in.

“We took an oath and we fulfilled that oath,” said Lewis, of Decatur. “And Congress needs to fulfill their side of the bargain.”

Lawmakers -- including Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson, who leads the Senate VA Committee -- passed an accountability bill last year making it easier for VA leaders to fire problematic employees, but they've struggled to nail down an agreement on the future of the department's Choice program, which allows some vets to see non-VA doctors using public dollars.

Harold Watkins, a U.S. Army veteran, got involved in the American Legion after struggling for years to get adequate medical care from conditions he traces to his service in the Vietnam War.

“I’ve had so many problems getting my issues taken care of,” said Watkins, who suffers from diabetes and neuropathy, “and I wanted to educate veterans.”

He was blunt about his hopes for the next VA secretary.

“He’ll have to be more responsive or he will be gone, too,” said Watkins. “Look, I’m apolitical. But I’m also a patient at the VA hospital. They are taking great care of me now. But the fact is: he will do his job, or he won’t be there.”

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