Ronny Jackson: Veterans Affairs Nominee Who Oversaw Trump's Physical The Navy rear admiral found himself in the spotlight when he offered a folksy and authoritative update on the president's physical exam in January. On Wednesday, he was picked for the Cabinet.
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Ronny Jackson: Doctor Who Gave Trump A Clean Bill Of Health Tapped To Lead VA

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Ronny Jackson: Doctor Who Gave Trump A Clean Bill Of Health Tapped To Lead VA

Ronny Jackson: Doctor Who Gave Trump A Clean Bill Of Health Tapped To Lead VA

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

When President Trump went looking for a new Cabinet secretary to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, he didn't have to look very far. Trump went with his personal White House doctor, Ronny Jackson. Jackson has sterling credentials as a physician and as a Navy admiral, but there are questions about his nomination, about whether he has the managerial experience to lead an agency as big and as complicated as the VA. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Jackson, who's known around the White House as Dr. Ronny, is one of the few people who works inside the first family's residence. His office is located just across from the president's personal elevator. He sees the president just about every day, sometimes several times a day. The first time most Americans saw Jackson was in January after he supervised Trump's physical and pronounced the president in excellent health.

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RONNY JACKSON: He's fit for duty. I think he will remain fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even for the remainder of another term if he's elected.

HORSLEY: At that White House briefing, reporters pressed Jackson on how the 71-year-old president could stay so healthy with his red meat diet and his general distaste for exercise.

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JACKSON: It's called genetics. Some people have, you know, just great genes. I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old.

HORSLEY: Trump was reportedly thrilled with the way Jackson handled reporters, standing tall at the lectern in his blue and gold Navy uniform. According to CNN, Trump later described the doctor as a Hollywood star out of central casting. The president now wants to cast Jackson in a new role, as VA secretary. Former Secretary David Shulkin was ousted yesterday, and hours later, Shulkin gave an exclusive broadcast interview to NPR's Morning Edition.

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DAVID SHULKIN: I know Dr. Jackson very well. I would consider him a good friend. He is a very honorable man, you know, served the country, cares a great deal about veterans. And I think that he wants to do the right thing and will work hard to do that.

HORSLEY: Shulkin says he'll do everything he can to help Jackson, but he admitted it won't be an easy job.

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SHULKIN: No one I think is naturally prepared to take on a task like this. This is a very challenging role.

HORSLEY: And despite his impressive medical resume, Jackson is hardly an experienced manager. The West Texas native served as a combat doctor in Iraq and cared for the last three presidents, but the largest organization Jackson has run is the White House Medical Unit, which consists of about two dozen people. The VA employs 360,000.

JOE CHENELLY: The White House has very tall order in front of it right now to be able to show to us that this person is qualified to lead the agency that's responsible for the health care of 9 million veterans and really the overall interest for 20 million veterans.

HORSLEY: Joe Chenelly is a Marine veteran and executive director of AMVETS. That's one of several veterans service organizations that have questioned whether Jackson has the chops to run a government department second only to the Pentagon in size and complexity. One of the big questions facing the VA is how much of its health care responsibilities should be privatized. Chenelly says on that divisive topic, Jackson is a mystery.

CHENELLY: We have no idea of what his personal feelings are on that, what his professional feelings are. We're certainly looking forward to hearing about that.

HORSLEY: A White House spokeswoman insisted today Jackson's nomination should not be seen as a signal that the president wants to privatize veterans' health care, but it is one of the issues likely to dominate at Jackson's upcoming confirmation hearing. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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