After weeks of speculation about the status of embattled VA Secretary David Shulkin, President Donald Trump announced the end of his tenure in a series of Tweets late Wednesday.
"I am pleased to announce that I intend to nominate highly respected Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD, as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs," Trump said via Twitter. "In the interim, Hon. Robert Wilkie of DOD will serve as Acting Secretary. I am thankful for Dr. David Shulkin's service to our country and to our GREAT VETERANS!"
Robert Wilkie currently serves as the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness at the Pentagon.
Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, a 23-year Navy officer, currently serves as Trump's appointed physician. Jackson first reported to the White House in 2006 following a deployment to Iraq and has spanned three administrations, serving as President Barack Obama's appointed physician before working for Trump.
He went through medical school at the University of Texas medical branch, was last in the headlines when he conducted Trump's physical in January.
At a White House briefing, Jackson said that Trump didn't meet the clinical definition of obesity, while adding that he could stand to lose 10 to 15 pounds. He also said Trump could use more exercise and should lay off the fast foods.
"He's more enthusiastic about the diet part than the exercise part, but we're going to do both," Jackson said of Trump.
"He's just like every other president I've taken care of," said Jackson, who has also conducted physicals for former President Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
"On occasion, I have to get the First Lady involved to make sure he's doing what he's supposed to be doing," Jackson said.
For Shulkin, the ouster came after months of speculation on his status as his efforts at reform of the second largest agency in government bogged down amid open feuding with Trump administration political appointees, at the White House and within the VA itself.
Trump had once been profuse in his praise of Shulkin, and in June told him that he would never hear Trump's catchphrase: "You're fired."
"We'll never have to use those words on our David," Trump said. "We will never use those words on you, that's for sure."
However, the rumors that Shulkin had lost favor escalated last month when VA Inspector Michael Missal accused him of "serious derelictions" in his travel expenses for a trip to London and Denmark last summer.
After initially rejecting the charges from Missal, Shulkin accepted responsibility and agreed to pay the Treasury back for the $4,132 airfare for his wife.
The IG's office followed up the travel expenses report with another one charging that failures of oversight had put patients at risk at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center, a flagship institution among the VA's more than 1,200 hospitals and outpatient clinics.
However, Shulkin's major falling out with the administration appeared to be over the expansion of the Veterans Choice Program allowing veterans under certain conditions to opt for private health care.
The White House political appointees had pressed for an aggressive expansion of choice, while Shulkin wanted a more integrated approach that would avoid the "privatization" of VA health care.
Shulkin's departure came after the latest round of rumors from Trump associates and the White House on whether he was going or staying.
On Sunday, Trump friend Christopher Ruddy said on ABC-TV's "This Week" program that Shulkin would be leaving "very soon."
On Monday, a White House aide said Trump had confidence in Shulkin "at this point in time."
On Wednesday, Trump's confidence ran out.
Throughout his confrontations with the White House, Shulkin had the support of the major Veterans Service Organizations, particularly on attempts to "privatize" VA health care.
In a statement, Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, said that "Secretary Shulkin has acted in the best interests of America's veterans and was making meaningful, positive changes at the VA.
"Our two million members are opposed to any legislation or effort to close or privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system, and we will continue to work vigorously to ensure our nation's veterans have the efficient, transparent, and properly functioning VA that they deserve," Rohan said.
-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.