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Whistleblower: Shulkin's Firing a 'Kick in the Stomach' to Manchester VA

Peter Biello
VA Sec. David Shulkin at the Manchester, N.H. VA Medical Center on Friday, August 4, 2017.

President Donald Trump fired VA Secretary David Shulkin Wednesday. Shulkin had paid a visit to the Manchester VA last August after whistleblowers came forward with allegations of substandard facilities and mismanaged care, and since his visit, he'd kept in touch with whistleblowers about how things were going.
Dr. Ed Kois is one of the whistleblowers who kept in contact with Secretary Shulkin. Kois spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello. 

What was your reaction when you heard that Secretary Shulkin was fired?

I was shocked. I felt that someone who was trying to do good and really had the VA on a better direction had his legs cut out from underneath him. I think it was really an upsetting move and a move that will ultimately affect veterans in a disastrous way.

In Secretary Shulkin’s exit interview with NPR and in his op-ed in the New York Times, he expressed concerns about the political forces pushing toward the privatization of the VA. Is this a concern that you share?

Yes. One-hundred percent. I think his op-ed in the New York Times is right on and I recommend people read it because it’s really what we’re fighting right now. We’re fighting a wave of people trying to privatize the VA.

My feeling—and apparently, his feeling, too—is the VA provides unique services for vets. And we’re clearly not perfect and we need to make changes but there’s things we can do that really can’t be replicated in the private practice. I was in the private practice for 28 years and I know that the patients are very different. But there are forces that want to privatize the VA and like I said in his op-ed, I think it’s purely financial and political and that’s what did him in.

You had spent several months since Sec. Shulkin’s visit to the Manchester VA last year developing a relationship with him and keeping him apprised of what’s happening in Manchester. Now that that relationship is going to have to change because he’s no longer in that job, how do you think this will affect the Manchester VA and its progress?

I think it’s a real kick in the stomach. I think he took a vested interest in the Manchester VA. I can tell you that there were projects that we worked on recently—the LUKE arm with Matt Aberquerque and Dean Kamen. He was a big supporter of that. He helped cut through a lot of red tape to get it accomplished. He was also very supportive of Al Montoya, our Medical Center Director, so I think we’re going to lose that.

I am also concerned that the physician that Trump has picked may be a great guy and may be a great practitioner, but when you go down his curriculum vitae, I see no evidence where he’s run large programs and we have the largest medical system in the world. And this gentlemen I believe was running clinics and diving programs were over in Afghanistan and ran some forward base emergency services, which I applaud, but I think that translation will be very different than the translation into running the VA.

Do you think this new person will be able to work with you in the same way to continue the work you’ve been doing at the Manchester VA?

I’m not sure that we’re even on his radar right now. I believe he grew up in Texas, trained in Texas, and I would hope that he knew there was a Manchester, New Hampshire. I don’t know that. But I know that Shulkin knew that, and I know he put a lot of effort—including working with the recent committees that met here on a regular basis.

What’s the mood like at the Manchester VA in response to this news?

The people I’ve talked to are basically stunned. They see this as the dark forces have won. It’s sad, because we’d all been working for improvements at this VA and I don’t see that happening now.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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