White House Chief of Staff John Kelly met with veterans groups Monday on the status of VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin and the ongoing turmoil at the agency over Shulkin's charges that he was being undermined by Trump administration political appointees.
The meeting at the White House included the advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America, which several of the major veterans organizations have charged is in league with efforts to oust Shulkin and outsource VA health care, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
The meeting with retired Marine Gen. Kelly included the executive directors of the so-called "Big Six" veterans service organizations -- the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), AmVets and the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA).
Also attending were CVA, the Military Officers Association of America, the Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Wounded Warrior Project, according to the sources.
Following the meeting, VFW Executive Director Bob Wallace issued a statement calling the session "very productive." He said "We discussed current legislation that would better care for veterans and we discussed current operations inside the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was a good meeting."
Kelly called the meeting last week following the release of the VA Inspector General's report charging that Shulkin improperly billed to the government the $4,132 airfare for his wife on a trip to Denmark and London last July and also wrongly accepted free tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
Shulkin at first disputed the report but then accepted responsibility and said he has already written a check to reimburse the Treasury.
He followed that up with his own charges that the IG's report was symptomatic of the "subversion" he was fighting from political appointees at the White House and within the VA who accused him of foot-dragging on expanding private-sector health care choices for veterans.
The major veterans organizations, while expressing "disappointment" with Shulkin's travel expenses, backed keeping him on the job as a hedge against overreliance on private sector care that they said would gut the core mission of the VA.
The CVA, which is mainly funded by the conservative Koch brothers organization, has denied wanting to "privatize" the VA, and said that private care under the Veterans Choice Program, should be an option when it's in the best interest of the veteran.
At a DAV conference on Sunday, Shulkin renewed his charges against the political appointees. "People who have subversive ideas or are creating two different agendas don't have a place in the VA, and people have to make a decision whether they're going to be on the team or off the team," Shulkin said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.