In a move that left many veterans groups breathing a sigh of relief, President-elect Donald J. Trump on Wednesday selected the current head of the nation’s sprawling veterans health care system, Dr. David J. Shulkin, an appointee of President Obama’s, to become secretary of veterans affairs.
If confirmed, he will be the first secretary to lead the department who is not a veteran.
While Mr. Trump’s chosen cabinet is largely made up of Washington outsiders, Dr. Shulkin, 57, is a relative insider. He has helped lead several private health care systems, including Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and the University of Pennsylvania Health System. In 2015, he was appointed under secretary for health by Mr. Obama and told to cut wait times in the troubled health care system, which includes 1,700 hospitals and clinics that serve nearly nine million veterans.
In that time, Dr. Shulkin has nearly doubled the amount of health care that veterans receive through private doctors. But he has also rejected calls for broader privatization, saying that it would cost untold billions and undermine the hospital system — a stance that puts him at odds with Mr. Trump.
While campaigning, the president-elect regularly criticized the department as hopelessly corrupt and incompetent, and said he would allow all veterans to choose to go to private doctors. But the selection of Dr. Shulkin may signal that Mr. Trump plans to take a more measured approach.
“The Trump campaign made a big deal of what a sucking chest wound the V.A. was,” said Phillip Carter, an Iraq veteran who studies the agency for the Center for a New American Security, a research organization that focuses on the military and veterans. “Then they realized how hard it would be to turn around, and decided they needed to continue with the reforms that are already taking effect.”