VA Health Chief Nominee Pulls Out

Phoenix VA Hospital

The doctor nominated to manage Department of Veterans Affairs' health care is passing on the job to avoid what could be a rough and long confirmation hearing before the Senate.

Dr. Jeffrey A. Murawsky was tapped to replace Dr. Robert Petzel, who resigned last month following allegations that the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, kept a secret list of patients waiting for doctor's appointments. Those allegations were later confirmed by a VA investigation.

"Dr. Murawsky notified the White House and the acting secretary that he would like his nomination to be withdrawn, citing the current confirmation environment," the White House said in a statement Thursday.

Finding a new nominee comes as the White House also searches for a new VA secretary to replace Eric Shinseki, who resigned last Friday after in-house reports confirmed the gaming of wait lists in Phoenix and elsewhere. Former Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson is now serving as the acting secretary.

The Acting Under Secretary for Health is Dr. Robert Jesse.

Since the Phoenix allegations emerged, investigators have confirmed waiting list manipulation across the country, including one that Murawsky oversees in Hines, Illinois. Murawsky is currently director of the VA's Great Lakes Regional Health Care System, responsible for seven hospitals and more than 30 clinics.

He previously practiced at the Hines facility and remains on staff there.

A senior White House official speaking on background Thursday said Obama will name a new nominee as soon as possible.

"This position is absolutely critical to ensuring that the problems identified at [Veterans Health Administration] get fixed," the official said. "The president and acting secretary plan to move as quickly as possible to fill the position with the best possible candidate who can ensure that our veterans get the care they have earned and deserve."

Gibson will convene a legally required review commission and ask its members to recommend top candidates for the job. The White House said it will remain engaged with veterans' service organizations and others while it seeks a new VHA head.

In the meantime, the White House said, it is "calling upon top health care executives and change management experts to raise their hands to be considered."

Petzel had announced his retirement well before he resigned from the job last month, and the White House announced Murawsky's nomination on May 1.

Shinseki accepted Petzel's resignation the day after Shinseki and Petzel appeared before the Senate offering testimony that neither one knew about any wrongdoing at the Phoenix VA hospital.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com.

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