Panel Will Help Pick Next VA Health Chief

Robert Petzel

A panel of experts has formed to find a new head of health care for the Department of Veterans Affairs, a post that opened up last month when Dr. Robert Petzel resigned over the ongoing patient wait-times scandal and his named successor withdrew his nomination.

Among those on the nine-member panel is Dr. Delos Cosgrove, president and chief executive officer of The Cleveland Clinic, who turned down the nomination after Dr. Jeffrey A. Murawsky – originally tapped to succeed Petzel – pulled out to avoid an expected Senate confirmation fight.

Two members of the panel represent the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans, veterans' advocacy groups that routinely support the VA. Absent from the panel is The American Legion, another major veterans service organization and the only major one that called for the resignations of Petzel and former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

The Legion said it will not comment on its absence from the panel.

Military.com asked the VA if the Legion being left off the search commission was linked to its demand for the resignations but received no reply.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson called the position being filled one of the most important jobs in government today, and said the panel "understands the urgency and the seriousness of the task ahead."

The search commission also includes two retired generals with medical backgrounds, the VA's chief of staff, senior officials with two medical schools, Virginia's deputy for health and human services, and representatives of two veterans' service organizations.

Petzel resigned last month following a grilling by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee over allegations that officials and staff at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, manipulated appointment schedules. Those allegations were confirmed by two VA investigations, including one that also revealed that 18 veterans on secret list of patients waiting for an appointment died before seeing a doctor.

Following those findings VA Secretary Eric Shinseki tendered his own resignation to President Obama last month and Gibson was appointing acting VA secretary.

The VA's Inspector General is now investigating allegations of manipulated appointment schedules at 70 VA hospitals and clinics across the country, and sharing findings with the Justice Department in the event there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

In his statement Tuesday, Gibson said the next under secretary for health must be an agent for change and "deliver necessary reforms to provide our veterans timely access to the world-class healthcare they've earned and deserve."

Other members of the panel include:  Army Surgeon General Lt. General Patricia Horoho; retired Army Maj. Gen. Nancy Adams; VA Chief of Staff Jose D. Riojas; Virginia Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Jennifer Lee; Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, director of the Institute for Population Health Improvement, University of California Davis Health System; Dr. John Prescott, chief academic officer, Association of American Medical Colleges; Garry Augustine, Washington headquarters executive director of the Disabled American Veterans; and Bob Wallace, executive director of Veterans of Foreign Wars.

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

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