Sen. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t commit to supporting President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, on Sunday.
In an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” the Vermont independent noted that Jackson, Trump’s personal physician, is a virtual unknown on veterans issues. He also expressed concerns the Trump administration is pushing to privatize the nearly $200 billion bureaucracy, citing the conservative agenda of the influential donors Charles and David Koch.
“We know nothing about what Dr. Jackson stands for and what his vision is for the VA,” Sanders said.
Trump replaced VA Secretary David Shulkin last week after months of criticism over reports he misused government travel. Shulkin has since said he was forced out for pushing back against efforts to privatize veterans services.
Jackson’s nomination came as a surprise. And the pick has raised questions about his qualifications to manage the myriad health services and benefits provided by VA and whether the administration is indeed pressing to privatize more veterans services.
“I do believe that the Trump administration, no matter what they are now saying, I think they are working on behalf of the Koch brothers,” Sanders said, adding they “want to privatize everything.”
“They have been putting more and more money into the private sector with VA money. I do not believe them on that issue,” he added. “I think they are listening to the Koch brothers and I think that that is a very, very bad idea.”
While he helped negotiate additional funding for veterans to access private medical care, Sanders, a former Senate Veterans’ Affairs chairman, has said beefing up VA’s budget and health services should be the priority.
“The VA does a lot of good things. It has problems. We have got to improve the VA,” Sanders said. “But I think we’ve got to listen to the veterans of this country and not privatize it.”