David Shulkin, the Philadelphia-based physician who has run the nation's network of veterans hospitals for the last 18 months, was appointed to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, president-elect Donald Trump announced on Wednesday.
"He's fantastic," Trump said. "He will do a truly great job."
Trump announced the appointment during raucous news conference at Trump Tower in New York where he denied allegations that Russian spies had collected compromising personal and financial information on him.
Shulkin, who has never served in the military, was appointed undersecretary by President Obama in June 2015 as the VA reeled under a barrage of patient anger, bad publicity, and congressional outrage.
Before Shulkin arrived at the VA, a whistle-blower in Arizona claimed 40 military veterans had died while waiting to be seen by VA doctors in Phoenix. Though the claim was never substantiated, an audit released in June 2014 found more than 57,400 vets had waited 90 days or longer for new-patient appointments nationwide.
As undersecretary, Shulkin was responsible for the health care of nearly 8.8 million vets and commanded 168 medical centers and 1,600 clinics from Philadelphia to the Philippines.
Before tackling the federal job, Shulkin had earned a reputation for embracing innovation, boosting patient satisfaction and rebuilding employee morale as an administrator of private hospitals.
Trump said his transition team chose Shulkin to lead the VA after a "long and hard" search and 100 candidate interviews.
"His sole mandate will be to serve our veterans and restore the level of care we owe to our brave men and women in the military," Trump said in a statement.
"Our veterans have been treated horribly," Trump said during his press conference. "They're waiting in line for 15, 16, 17 days, cases where they go in and they have a minor early-stage form of cancer and they can't see a doctor. By the time they get to the doctor, they're terminal. Not gonna happen, it's not gonna happen."
Shulkin, 57, lives in Gladwyne on the Main Line with his wife, dermatologist Merle Bari. The internist, who also keeps a condo in New York City where he occassionally sees patients at a Manhattan VA hospital, was not available for comment.
"We are both eager to begin reforming the areas in our Veterans Affairs system that need critical attention, and do it in a swift, thoughtful and responsible way," Shulkin said in a statement released by Trump's press office.
Shulkin earned his medical degree at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, interned at Yale, and was a resident at the University of Pittsburgh. He spent more than a decade managing hospitals in Philadelphia, serving as chief medical officer at Penn Medicine, the Medical College of Pennsylvania, and Temple University Hospital.
In his last job before joining the VA, Shulkin was paid $1.3 million-a-year to lead the Morristown Medical Center in North Jersey, which under his leadership, was deemed the safest hospital in New Jersey by Consumer Reports and selected by Fortune magazine as one of the best places to work in America. At the VA he was paid $170,000 annually, a fraction of his previous salary.
During the news conference, Trump said the VA would work more closely with the private-sector.