U.S. News

Trump taps doctor, decorated diver to rescue Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When a Republican congressman was critically wounded in a shooting at a baseball game last summer, U.S. President Donald Trump dispatched his physician, an Iraq war veteran trained in emergency medicine, to the hospital to check on his condition.

White House, Presidential physician Ronny Jackson prepares to answers question about U.S. President Donald Trump's health after the president's annual physical during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Later on that June day, Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson accompanied the Trumps to meet with Representative Steve Scalise’s family and medical team. Scalise survived and has returned to Congress.

Now Trump is counting on Jackson to take charge at Veterans Affairs, a behemoth of a bureaucracy that has vexed a slew of decorated military officers and corporate managers. He takes over for David Shulkin, who came under heavy criticism in recent weeks for alleged unauthorized travel expenses.

The 50-year-old Jackson became a minor celebrity earlier this year as the telegenic presenter of a report on Trump’s fitness, in which he said the president was in overall excellent health but needed to shed some weight, eat better and start exercising on a daily basis.

The Navy doctor exhausted reporters’ questions during an unusually lengthy hour-long session, at Trump’s request, and said he did not withhold any information in the interests of privacy.

The press conference was spoofed in a "Saturday Night Live" here skit, his double-breasted uniform dripping with medals.

"Their job is to make fun of the people and the situation, so I didn’t expect to come out smelling like a rose. My kids and some of my friends thought it was pretty cool," Jackson said in an interview here with the American Council on Science and Health.

Trump is the third president Jackson has served after coming on as the presidential physician in 2006 during the George W. Bush administration. He wins plaudits from Republicans and Democrats alike for his work here.

David Axelrod, a top Obama aide and strategist, tweeted after Jackson’s press conference on Trump: “I knew Dr. Ronny Jackson in the White House. In my experience, he was very good guy and straight shooter.”

The Texas native worked as an autopsy assistant to earn extra money for college. After medical school, he trained as a specialist in submarine and hyperbaric medicine and was a diving medical officer serving in Italy. He completed his residency in emergency medicine and was later assigned to Iraq with a Marine unit during Operation Iraqi Freedom as the emergency medicine physician in charge of resuscitative medicine.

Jackson will bring his real-life war, management and emergency skills to an administration of 1,700 facilities and 350,000 employees serving 9.05 million veterans each year.

Additional reporting by Damon Darlin; Writing by Mary Milliken; editing by Diane Craft