President Donald Trump's candidate to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, withdrew his name from consideration on April 26 amid allegations that he improperly dispensed controlled substances, engaged in excessive drinking on the job and created a hostile work environment.
In a statement, Jackson said the allegations against him were "completely false and fabricated," but because the claims had become a distraction for Trump and "the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation's heroes" — he was stepping aside.
After the accusations began to mount against Jackson and the Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee indefinitely postponed the scheduled April 25 confirmation hearing, Trump himself suggested the VA candidate abandon his pursuit of the job — a position for which the president hand-picked Jackson to serve after firing now-former VA Secretary David Shulkin via Twitter on March 28.
"I really don't think personally he should do it," Trump said during an April 24 news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. "I don't want to put a man through a process like this. It's too ugly and too disgusting."
But just hours later, the White House came to Jackson's defense, declaring the allegations against him were untrue and providing a set of reports, including job assessment reviews, about the VA nominee to news reporters — emphasizing handwritten notes from former President Barack Obama, who called the doctor "one of my administration's most trusted advisers."
Jackson, the White House physician, has no administrative experience. Had he been confirmed, he would have been put in charge of an agency that provides benefits and services to more than 20 million American veterans, runs the largest integrated healthcare system in the U.S., and employs nearly 400,000 full-time workers.
Facing mounting accusations
On April 25, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, provided news reporters with a list of accusations from 23 colleagues and former colleagues of Jackson, most of whom the lawmaker said were still in uniform and did not want to be identified publicly.
The complaints contained allegations that Jackson has been drunk on the job multiple times, with most of those incidents occurring during overseas travel while he was supposed to be attending to Trump or Obama.
"At a Secret Service going away party, Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle," the document stated.
Multiple individuals cited the nickname of "Candyman" for Jackson because he would provide whatever prescriptions they sought without paperwork — an accusation Tester also talked about a day earlier on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360."
Physicians, physician assistants and nurses have described a pattern of handing out controlled substances, like Ambien and Provigil, without triaging patient history, while on Air Force One, according to the complaints made to Tester.
Jackson also had "provided a large supply" of the opioid Percocet to a White House military office staff member, according to the document.
The allegations — which come as the House and the Senate are in the midst of trying to pass legislation to address the opioid crisis — also claimed that Jackson had written prescriptions for himself and to other non-White House personnel.
Jackson was described as "flat-out unethical" and "explosive."
Defending his honor
But Jackson denied those assertions.
"If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years," Jackson said in the April 26 statement. "In my role as a doctor, I have tirelessly worked to provide excellent care for all my patients. In doing so, I have always adhered to the highest ethical standards."
Jackson served in Iraq before being selected in 2006 during the George W. Bush administration to serve as a White House physician.
Obama chose Jackson to serve as the physician to the president, a job he continued in when Trump entered the White House.
"One of the greatest honors in my life has been to serve this country as a physician both on the battlefield with United States Marines and as proud member of the United States Navy," Jackson said. "It has been my distinct honor and privilege to work at the White House and serve three presidents."
Going into the confirmation process, Jackson said he expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, "but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity."
"While I will forever be grateful for the trust and confidence President Trump has placed in me by giving me this opportunity, I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs," he said. "I am proud of my service to the country and will always be committed to the brave veterans who volunteer to defend our freedoms."
In an April 26 statement, Tester thanked the "servicemembers who bravely spoke out over the past week."
"It is my constitutional responsibility to make sure the veterans of this nation get a strong, thoroughly vetted leader who will fight for them," he said. "The next secretary must have a commitment to reform a strained health care system and a willingness to stand up to special interests who want to privatize the VA."