Photo by Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA)

Opinion: I have concerns with Ronny Jackson, being a ‘candy man’ isn’t one

Matt Saintsing
April 25, 2018 - 1:59 pm

No shit, there I was…

One fall evening in 2009, I was on the flight line of FOB Summerall, just outside Bayji in northern Iraq, sweating profusely into every layer that touched my body, and a few that didn’t. I was wearing body armor, a Kevlar helmet, had my M-4 rifle slung over my shoulder and M-9 pistol on my hip, which should seem like enough to carry, but I also had a ruck-sack, assault pack and duffel bag filled to its absolute capacity.

I was just a few helo rides away from Kuwait, and two much longer international flights away from landing at Fort Campbell, Ky.  

But, right before I boarded the first Chinook, an officer stopped me, a Major, and asked me if I wanted Ambien for the long ride home. It took me about 10 seconds to realize that the Major was the battalion’s physician. Caught a bit off-guard, I nodded and said “sure, sir. Thanks.”

He then filled out a prescription for me in what seemed like an instant, reached into his pocket and gave me two pills. “Make sure you wait until the long flight home before you take these,” he said.

I replied, “Roger that, sir,” and he quickly went on to the next person, and to the next.

I bring this up not because I want to tell you a completely boring and routine story about how I left Iraq for the last time, but because U.S. Navy  Adm. Ronny Jackson, the current White House physician whom President Donald Trump tapped to lead the Department of Veterans, is facing allegations of improper behavior involving loosely dispensing the sleep-inducing prescription medications of Ambien and Provigil.

“In the White House,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont) told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Tuesday, “they call him the ‘candy man.’”

"The word is, that on overseas trips in particular, that the admiral would go down the aisle way of the airplane and say, 'Who wants to go to sleep,' he continued, ”And hand out the prescription drugs."

If Adm. Jackson was wrong to offer officials and journalists aboard Air Force One sleeping medication—to help the passengers adjust to time zone differences more quickly in what is usually required—then the U.S. Army Major who handed out Ambien to me and dozens of other soldiers was equally wrong.

Look, David Shulkin’s forced ouster and subsequent nomination of Jackson to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs caught us all off guard, and there are actual valid concerns about his background and experience that brings his qualifications into question.

But, let’s have a conversation and debate about that. Let’s talk about how someone who undoubtedly understands military medicine doesn’t automatically have the management chops to lead the federal government’s second largest department with over 300,000 employees.

If Jackson still wants the job, I want to hear from him about the allegations that he drank on duty, and banged on a woman employee’s door during an overseas trip in a drunken stupor while serving as the White House doctor. 

These charges shouldn’t be taken lightly, and if it turns out Jackson engaged in unbecoming conduct, that should be more than enough to disqualify him for leading the VA. If it turns out the Senate doesn't have the confidence that Trump has in him, that's enough to disqualify Jackson. 

As Ronny Jackson's military careers sunsets, he's being asked to serve again. Let's serve veterans by engaging in the right debates on this one.