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Jackson Withdraws as VA Nominee        04/26 07:25

   WASHINGTON (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.

   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.


(KA)

 
 
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