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How Veterans Are Responding To The Allegations Against Ronny Jackson

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Millions of veterans depend on the Veterans Affairs Department for health care and other benefits. So to get a sense of what veterans are saying about Ronny Jackson's chances to become the VA secretary, we turn to one of the country's largest veterans service organizations, AMVETS. Joe Chenelly is the group's national executive director, and he is a veteran himself. Welcome.

JOE CHENELLY: Thank you very much.

CHANG: So there are three sort of categories of allegations here. We've got the prescription drugs. We've got drinking on the job, and we have abusive workplace environment. Which allegations concern you the most?

CHENELLY: Well, I think they're all obviously very troubling and disturbing. Clearly his leadership judgment here is what comes into question the most and is probably the most important. He would be the executive in charge of 375,000 employees.

CHANG: Yeah. What about reactions you're hearing from other members of your organization, other veterans? What are they saying about all of this?

CHENELLY: You know, no one seems to really quite know what to think yet about the allegations themselves, more so that they are a symptom of the broader problem here, which is that this nomination was made with seemingly very little vetting on the White House side of this and that this candidate was put forward based on face value and what President Trump himself and maybe only himself knew of the doctor.

And we believe that the secretary of the VA position is an extremely important position. You know, there's 20 million veterans in the United States, and they all, one way or another - whether they realize it or not, they depend on the VA to be there for them. There's 9 million of those veterans that are in the VA medical system, and their lives are in jeopardy if that medical system fails.

CHANG: How much has the White House engaged with veterans service organizations like yours in choosing who should lead the Department of Veterans Affairs?

CHENELLY: Unfortunately it's been very little. Here with Admiral Jackson, we did have the opportunity to meet with him last week, and we've had some opportunity to speak with staff a little bit. But this goes back to the - right after the election, we reached out to then-President-elect Trump and his transition team. And so, you know, we have some really positive and productive feedback for you and...

CHANG: Yeah.

CHENELLY: ...Some ideas. We're not going to try to propose anybody in particular. We would like to outline some characteristics and some experience points that we think would be valuable and necessary for the next secretary to be successful.

CHANG: And were they receptive?

CHENELLY: Unfortunately they were not. They completely ignored us. Eventually we did like the nominee, David Shulkin. But then again, as we found out that David Shulkin was going to be replaced soon...

CHANG: Yeah.

CHENELLY: ...We reached out, and we said again, hey, we have this; we can help you make this a great decision. And again we were ignored. And when the tweet came out that said David Shulkin was fired, there was a nominee's name in there. And Admiral Jackson was it.

CHANG: And if you were invited to the White House now to share your thoughts with the president, what would you tell him?

CHENELLY: The VA needs a leader. It doesn't have to be someone who has expertise in the medical side or in the business side. They need someone who can provide consistency because that's the one thing the VA has not had - is consistency, stability. And as long as the VA is instable, veterans are going to continue to suffer.

CHANG: Joe Chenelly is the national executive director for AMVETS. Thank you very much for joining us.

CHENELLY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.