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Nominee to be VA's top doctor withdraws

Jun. 5, 2014 - 03:44PM   |  
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President Obama’s pick to become the Veterans Affairs Department’s next top doctor has withdrawn his nomination.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Dr. Jeffrey Murawsky pulled his nomination for VA under secretary for health out of concern that his Senate confirmation would spark “a prolonged political battle.”

Murawsky had been nominated May 1 to replace Dr. Robert Petzel, a key figure in the ongoing scandal over patient wait times at VA hospitals. Petzel was to retire this year but resigned abruptly on May 16 as more became known about the widespread problems involving patient care at VA medical facilities.

A VA physician since 2001, Murawsky serves as director of the VA regional network responsible for facilities in Michigan and parts of Wisconsin and Illinois. In that capacity, he also supervised Sharon Helman, the director of the VA Phoenix Health Care System, who is now on administrative leave pending her dismissal by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Before moving to Phoenix, Helman worked as hospital director of the Hines VA Medical Center in Illinois, where Murawsky was her direct supervisor.

A White House official with knowledge of the discussion noted that the problems seen in Phoenix were not limited to a few Veterans Health Administration facilities but “many across the country. In his capacity as network director, Murawsky oversaw six other facilities, including one run jointly with the Defense Department.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, wrote to Obama on May 20 requesting Murawsky’s withdrawal from the process. In his letter, Cornyn said a whistleblower at the Hines facility raised concerns over secret waiting lists at the hospital, which pose “very serious questions about Dr. Murawsky’s ability to effectively and responsibly lead the health care operations of the VA Great Lakes Health Care System.”

“Instead of nominating a reformer from outside the VA system who can bring fresh leadership as the next under secretary for health ... you have appointed Dr. Jeffrey A. Murawsky, a career administrator whose own tenure at the VA raises serious concerns,” Cornyn wrote.

The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday named Cleveland Clinic director Dr. Toby Cosgrove as the top contender to replace VA Secretary Erik Shinseki, who resigned last Friday.

Citing sources close to the process, the Journal reported that Cosgrove, a heart surgeon and former Air Force doctor who earned the Bronze Star and Republic of Vietnam Commendation medal for service in Da Nang, was “seriously considering the position.”

But regarding the position of under secretary for health, the White House would say only that Obama has accepted Murawsky’s withdrawal and will “move quickly to find a replacement.”

“This position is absolutely critical to ensuring that the problems identified at VHA get fixed,” a senior administration officials said.

VA issued a statement on Thursday thanking Murawsky for his continued public service.

“This is one of the most important jobs in the government right now. Once a new nominee has been identified, VA will urge Congress to move swiftly to confirm the nomination,” a VA spokesman said.

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