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Memo: VA pick said to have crashed car while drunk

By The Associated Press

This article was originally published April 25, 2018 at 4:15 p.m. Updated April 25, 2018 at 6:33 p.m.

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Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump's choice to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, leaves a Senate office building after meeting individually with some members of the committee that would vet him for the post, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 24, 2018.

WASHINGTON — Dr. Ronny Jackson had a pattern of recklessly prescribing drugs and drunken behavior, including crashing a government vehicle while intoxicated and doling out a large supply of a prescription opioid to a White House military staff member, according to a summary of accusations compiled by Democratic staff on the committee considering his nomination as Veterans Affairs secretary.

The summary was based on conversations with 23 of Jackson's current at former colleagues at the White House Medical Unit. The accusations included 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.

In just a matter of days, the allegations have transformed Jackson's reputation as a celebrated doctor attending the president to a nominee accused of drinking on the job and over-prescribing drugs.

President Donald Trump continues to stand by Jackson, and the White House is aggressively defending him.

Jackson on Wednesday denied allegations of bad behavior and told reporters at the White House he was "still moving ahead as planned."

"I never wrecked a car," he said. "I have no idea where that is coming from."

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.

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.

According to the summary released by Democrats, Jackson was nicknamed "Candyman" by White House staff because he would provide prescriptions without paperwork and had his own private stock of controlled substances.

Drugs he prescribed included Ambien, used for sleep, and Provigil, used to help wake up. In one case, the summary said, quantities of Percocet, a prescription opioid, went missing and "threw WHMU into a panic. It turned out Jackson had provided a large supply to a White House Military Officer."

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 for some specified length of time. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is at least as common among physicians as in the general population.

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 Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana 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."

"We're standing by Jackson," Short said. "Dr. Jackson will look forward to telling his story."

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 Associated Press 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 Democratic staff members.

Jackson, a White House physician since 2006, met privately with Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday, and the president urged him to keep fighting to win confirmation, according to a White House official briefed on the meeting. The official, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions, said Jackson denied the allegations.

The White House 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. But Jackson has faced multiple questions from lawmakers and veterans groups about whether he has the experience to manage the department of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.

Read Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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