BREAKING: Ronny Jackson, Trump’s VA pick, withdraws nomination in wake of ‘false allegations’

Washington, D.C. (AP) — White House doctor Ronny Jackson withdrew from consideration as Veterans Affairs secretary on Thursday, saying ‘‘false allegations’’ against him have become a distraction.

In a statement the White House issued from Jackson, he said he ‘‘did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity.’’

Shortly after Jackson dropped out, President Donald Trump called into the Fox & Friends morning show to praise Jackson as an ‘‘incredible man’’ who ‘‘runs a fantastic operation.’’

Trump said Jackson had a ‘‘beautiful record’’ and that there was no proof of the allegations. Added Trump, ‘‘I think Jon Tester has a big price to pay.’’ The president declined to say who he may nominate next. President Donald Trump is praising Ronny Jackson, who has just announced he will withdraw from consideration as Veterans Affairs secretary. Trump says there will be consequences for the Democratic senator who led the charge against Jackson.

In a phone interview with ‘‘Fox & Friends’’ Thursday, Trump says Jackson ‘‘would have done a great job,’’ but that he saw where his nomination was going.

Trump says he told Jackson, a Navy vice admiral: ‘‘Welcome to Washington. Welcome to the swamp. Welcome to the world of politics,’’ Trump places the blame on Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, whose office issued a report Wednesday listing allegations it had gathered about Jackson’s work as White House doctor.

Trump says: ‘‘I think Jon Tester has to have a big price to pay in Montana.’’ Trump says he has an idea for a replacement nominee, adding it will be ‘‘someone with political capability.’’

Jackson faced a series of accusations about his workplace conduct. The latest blow to his nomination to lead the government’s second-largest Cabinet agency came Wednesday with a set of accusations compiled by Democratic staff on the committee considering his nomination.

Based on conversations with 23 of Jackson’s current and former colleagues at the White House Medical Unit, the summary said Jackson exhibited a pattern of recklessly prescribing drugs and drunken behavior, including crashing a government vehicle while intoxicated and doling out such a large supply of a prescription opioid that staffers panicked because they thought the drugs were missing.

In just a matter of days, the allegations transformed Jackson’s reputation as a celebrated doctor attending the president to an embattled nominee accused of drinking on the job and over-prescribing drugs. He was seen pacing back and forth on the White House grounds Wednesday.

Jackson huddled late Wednesday evening with top White House press staff. They declined to comment on the situation.

A former colleague who spoke to The Associated Press described Jackson as a gregarious, Type A charmer who knew how to position himself for success — attentive to bosses but also causing unnecessary grief and consternation among colleagues.

He said Jackson became known as ‘‘Candyman’’ because of the way he handed out drugs. The ex-colleague spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retaliation.

The ‘‘Candyman’’ nickname was also cited in the summary released by the Democrats.

In a section on Jackson’s prescribing practices, the summary said that in one case, missing Percocet tabs threw members of the White House Medical Unit into a panic — but it turned out he had prescribed a ‘‘large supply’’ of the opioid to a White House Military Office staffer.

The allegations also referred to multiple incidents of Jackson’s intoxication while on duty, often on overseas trips. On at least one occasion he was nowhere to be found when his medical help was needed because ‘‘he was passed out drunk in his hotel room,’’ according to the summary.

At a Secret Service going-away party, the summary says, Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle.

Jackson has denied allegations of bad behavior.

‘‘I never wrecked a car,’’ he said. ‘‘I have no idea where that is coming from.’’

Reports of overprescribing and alcohol-related behavior problems can jeopardize a doctor’s license. Many state medical boards allow doctors to keep their licenses and return to practice if they complete special treatment programs and submit to random urine screens.

The allegations were publicly released on the day that Jackson’s confirmation hearing was to have been held. The hearing was postponed indefinitely while the allegations against him are reviewed.

‘‘He treated the people above him very, very well. He treated the people below him very, very poorly,’’ Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told the AP. ‘‘It’s not surprising the people above him think he was doing a really, really good job.’’

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Jackson had passed ‘‘at least four independent background checks’’ that found ‘‘no areas of concern.’’

‘‘He has received more vetting than most nominees,’’ she said.

Marc Short, the White House legislative director, could not say he was confident the allegations were false. He was ‘‘not familiar’’ with car wreck episode.

But Short also suggested Tester was airing the allegations for political gain.

‘‘It’s quite unusual for a United States senator to take allegations that have not been fully investigated, but to flaunt them to the national public to suggest he’s the ‘candyman’ I think is outrageous,’’ Short said.

Tester, speaking on MSNBC, acknowledged that not all the allegations had been verified.

‘‘Am I 100% rock solid sure that he did this? No,’’ Tester said. ‘‘But I’ve seen a pattern here that continues on and on and on.’’

Veterans groups are dismayed over the continuing uncertainty at the VA, already beset by infighting over improvements to veterans care.

‘‘The American Legion is very concerned about the current lack of permanent leadership,’’ said Denise Rohan, national commander of The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization.

A watchdog report requested in 2012 and reviewed by the AP found that Jackson and a rival physician exhibited ‘‘unprofessional behaviors’’ as they engaged in a power struggle over the White House medical unit.

That report by the Navy’s Medical Inspector General found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members, who described the working environment as ‘‘being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce.’’

It included no references to improper prescribing of drugs or the use of alcohol, as alleged in the summary compiled by the Senate Democratic staff members.

The White House has released handwritten reports from Trump and former President Barack Obama praising Jackson’s leadership and medical care and recommending him for promotion.

Trump’s first VA secretary, David Shulkin, was dismissed after an ethics scandal and mounting rebellion within the agency. But Jackson has faced numerous questions from lawmakers and veterans groups about whether he has the experience to manage the department of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.

Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Lisa Mascaro, Ken Thomas, Matthew Daly and Jill Colvin in Washington and AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

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NOT BACKING DOWN: Trump VA pic stands his ground despite mounting allegations

Washington, D.C. (AP) — Ronny Jackson is fighting to salvage his imperiled nomination to be veterans affairs chief as more details emerge about accusations from his time as a top White House doctor, including repeated drunkenness and a “toxic” work environment.

President Donald Trump has suggested publicly that Jackson may want to withdraw, citing what Trump calls unfair scrutiny. Privately, Trump is urging Jackson to work for Senate confirmation. Jackson is showing few signs of backing down, so far.

Veterans groups are dismayed over the continuing uncertainty at the Department of Veterans Affairs, already beset by infighting over improvements to veterans care.

“The American Legion is very concerned about the current lack of permanent leadership,” said Denise Rohan, national commander of The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization.

The group opposed Trump’s firing of Obama administration holder David Shulkin and has not taken a position on Jackson’s nomination. But Rohan urged action to approve a “strong, competent and experienced secretary.”

A watchdog report requested in 2012 and reviewed by The Associated Press found that Jackson and a rival physician exhibited “unprofessional behaviors” as they engaged in a power struggle over the White House medical unit.

The report by the Navy’s Medical Inspector General found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members, who described the working environment as “being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce.”

“There is a severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership that has deteriorated to the point that staff walk on ‘eggshells,’” according to the assessment.

The report reviewed by the AP included no references to improper prescribing of drugs or the use of alcohol, separate allegations revealed by a Senate committee.

Jackson has declined to answer reporters’ questions about those allegations. The White House disputed that he had improperly administered medication and said the medical unit passed regular audits by the Controlled Substance Inventory Board.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee postponed a hearing scheduled for Wednesday on Jackson’s nomination.

Trump insisted as a White House news conference Tuesday with the French president that he would stand behind Jackson. But he questioned why Jackson would want to put himself through the confirmation fight, which he characterized as unfair.

“What does he need it for? What do you need this for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country?” Trump asked.

Jackson, a White House physician since 2006, met privately with Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday and the president urged him to keep fighting to win confirmation, according to a White House official briefed on the meeting. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions, said Jackson denied the allegations.

The White House released handwritten reports from Trump and former President Barack Obama praising Jackson’s leadership and medical care, and recommending him for promotion.

A doomed VA nomination would be a political blow to the White House, which has faced criticism for sloppy screening of Cabinet nominees and tough confirmation battles in a Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 51-49 majority.

Before Jackson was nominated last month, Trump had told aides and outside advisers that he was fond of Jackson personally and was said to be particularly impressed with Jackson’s performance at the White House press room podium in January, when Jackson offered a glowing report on the president’s physical and mental well-being.

Shulkin was dismissed after an ethics scandal and mounting rebellion within the agency. But Jackson has faced numerous questions from lawmakers and veterans groups about whether he has the experience to manage the department of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.

Allegations began surfacing late last week involving Jackson’s workplace practices, including claims of inappropriate behavior and over-prescribing of prescription drugs, according to two aides granted anonymity to discuss the situation.

The complaints the White House heard include that he oversaw a poor work environment and that he had drunk alcohol on the job, according to an administration official who demanded anonymity to speak on a sensitive personnel matter.

Detailing the allegations to NPR, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the committee’s top Democrat, said more than 20 current and retired military personnel had made complaints to the committee about Jackson. They included claims that Jackson was “repeatedly drunk” while on travel with Obama and that on overseas trips he excessively handed out prescription drugs to help travelers sleep and wake up.

Tester told CNN that Jackson was known inside the White House as “the candy man” because he would hand out prescription drugs “like candy.”

Jackson is also accused of creating a “toxic work environment,” Tester said on NPR.

Asked if Jackson’s nomination was viable, the committee chairman, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said, “We’ll see.”

The two lawmakers sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday requesting additional information about Jackson. It demands any communication between the Pentagon and the White House for the past 12 years regarding “allegations or incidents” involving Jackson.

The 2012 assessment reviewed by the AP suggested the White House consider replacing Jackson or Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman — or both. Kuhlman was the physician to Obama at the time, and had previously held the role occupied by Jackson: director of the White House medical unit.

According to the report, Jackson admitted he had failed to shield the White House medical unit from the leadership drama. He is quoted saying he was willing to do what was necessary to straighten out the command, even if it “meant finding a new position in Navy Medicine.”

The report stated that the “vast majority” of those interviewed said Kuhlman had “irrevocably damaged his ability to effectively lead.” It added that “many also believe that CAPT Jackson has exhibited poor leadership,” but attributed those failures to the relationship with Kuhlman.

Jackson was named physician to the president in 2013, after Kuhlman left the unit.

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Catherine Lucey, Lolita Baldor, Alan Fram and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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‘ITS HELL’: 84 YEAR OLD TWIN VETERANS LIVING IN CAR AFTER LOSING THEIR CALIFORNIA HOME

FAIR OAKS, CA — Twin brothers who each dedicated their lives to serving their nation have found themselves penniless and living in a car after the pair say they lost their home due to a loan gone bad.

Clifford and Gary Koekoek, 84-year-old twins who each fought in the Vietnam War, lost the home that had been in their family for decades last October after taking out a loan to do some repairs to the property.

“We took a loan thinking that we had a conventional loan,” Gary Koekoek told Fox 40 Sacramento (http://fox40.com/2017/07/18/homeless-84-year-old-twin-brothers-search-for-permanent-housing/) . However, the pair soon discovered the loan had an adjustable APR and the payments quickly became too much to bear. In October the bank foreclosed and the brothers found themselves living in their car.

“It’s a lot of stress,” Clifford said, choking back tears. “I’d rather go back to the war and get shot at than this.”

“Right now, I’m broke,” Clifford added. “Sometimes we don’t eat”.

Aaron Hoerner, a friend of the family for more than a decade, says he was shocked to discover the brothers’ predicament and has since set up a Go Fund Me account (https://www.gofundme.com/help-gary-and-clifford-kukor) in the hopes of getting the war heroes back into a permanent home.

“They were just living in their car in front of Raley’s when I found out,” Hoerner said of the brothers’ sad predicament. “It’s easy to walk by and not look at their situation but if you stop and talk to somebody, everybody has a story.”

Born in the Netherlands, Clifford and Gary Koekoek were raised in Belgium until World War II. The horrors they experienced under Nazi control is what drove them to never marry or bring children into the world, they say, and as a result, all they have is each other.

“All my life I’ve seen people killed, tortured, taken away to concentration camps,” says Clifford. ” I don’t want that.”

Despite all the tragedies the pair has witnessed in their lives, their current situation is seemingly the hardest to accept. Still, the pair say they are struggling to keep their heads up in the hopes that tomorrow will be a brighter day.

“I never will beg,” Clifford says. “That’s the way I’m feeling.”

“I guarantee you within the next months I will win the big lottery,” Gary added laughing through tears. “I will win millions of dollars.”

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PROMISE KEPT: TRUMP SIGNS VA REFORM BILL IN DEFENSE OF VETERANS

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fulfilling another of his campaign promises, President Donald Trump on Friday signed Veterans Affairs reform legislation designed to protect whistle blowers who report inappropriate treatment of U.S. veterans.

“Veterans have fulfilled their duty to this nation and now, we must fulfill our duty to them,” Trump said as he signed the legislative order. “So to every veteran who is here with us today, I just want to say two very simple words, thank you.”

During a signing ceremony in the White House’s East Room, the president called it a “national disgrace” that many VA workers involved in mistreatment of veterans were allowed to remain in their roles and that the new law will make sure it “never happens again.”

“This is one of the largest reforms of the VA in its history,” Trump told an audience filled with veterans and their families.

The legislation speeds up the process for VA Secretary David Shulkin to terminate employees, regardless of rank, and permits the agency to rescind bonuses if an employee is convicted of a felony related to his or her duties. It also provides additional protection for whistle blowers who report ill care of mistreatment of veterans being cared for by the VA.

The bill was prompted by the 2014 scandal involving a Phoenix VA medical center where patients died while waiting for health care.

“What happened was a national disgrace and yet, some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” Trump said.

The House voted 368-55 last week to pass the new legislation before sending it to the president’s desk.

Despite overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill, which was approved by the Senate earlier this month, critics of the legislation have likened the order to a “witch hunt”.

“When poor performers are not dealt with it is not because the civil service laws or procedures are too difficult to utilize. It is because managers do not want to put forward the effort to properly document poor performance so that they can remove or demote these people,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. told the Senate.

Despite the criticism, the president called the legislation a “new day” for veterans.

“Veterans were put on secret wait lists, given the wrong medication, given the bad treatments, and ignored in moments of crisis for them. Many veterans died waiting for a simple doctor’s appointment,” said Trump. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable.”

“Today,” he added, “we are finally changing those laws.”

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HEADLINES: SOCIAL MEDIA POST ON VA TREATMENT OF PATIENTS CAUSES OUTRAGE

DURHAM, N.C. — A Facebook post by a former Marine and his wife who said the scene inside a Veterans Administration hospital in Durham, North Carolina was so horrific that they felt compelled to take pictures and post them to social media has led to national outrage.

Stephen McMenamin and his wife Hanna posted photos of two veterans who were who were visibly suffering as they waited for care inside a VA hospital waiting room. The McMenamins said both men, who were senior citizens, were ignored for hours despite complaining multiple times of being in severe pain. One of the men almost fell out of his wheelchair, and the other laid the floor after being told he would have to wait for an exam bed.

After the photos went viral, one of the men in the photos, a Vietnam veteran by the name of Jesse Lee, was identified as the man in the wheelchair. He said he went to the VA to seek treatment for severe pains after a leg amputation.

“Somebody in real bad pain should be seen,” Lee said. “It felt like a railroad spike was going through my foot. It’s like one of the worst pains you’ve ever felt in your life.”

The other man has not yet been identified but McMenamin said one VA nurse, in particular, seemed to intentionally ignore the man’s pleas for help.

“That’s somebody’s dad, that’s somebody’s grandfather,” Hanna McMenamin said. “(He) was “very shaky, trembling and he was asking for help. He was getting pretty desperate.”

Eventually the unnamed veteran laid down on the floor in an attempt to relieve the pain but was ordered back up by hospital staff.

DeAnne Seekins, Medical Center Director for the hospital said she plans on investigating the treatment that the two elderly men received.

“It is an honor to serve America’s heroes and actions that do not align with our core values will not be tolerated,” she said in a statement. “We pride ourselves on providing the highest quality care to the Veterans we serve and being responsive to our patient’s needs. Veterans deserve nothing less.”

The McMenamin’s seem doubtful that much will be done considering the response they say they’ve received from VA administrators.

“The VA is very unhappy that we have posted this photo and it has been seen around the country. They have asked us again to remove this photo, claiming on of the participants does not want this posted,” said Hanna McMenanin.

As of late Tuesday, the post has been shared more than 116,000 times (https://www.facebook.com/hanna.dickson/posts/10208647901980267). A spokesperson for the medical center says one of the employees involved has been removed from patient care pending an internal review.

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