Cleveland Clinic Chief Removes Self as Prospect for Top VA Post

Jun 08, 2014 12:00 am ET

June 8 (Bloomberg) -- The Obama administration lost a leading contender to take the helm of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as the Cleveland Clinic’s chief executive took himself out of the running for the job.

“I have decided to withdraw from consideration from this position,” Delos “Toby” Cosgrove said yesterday in a statement.

He said his decision to remain at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the world’s foremost medical and research institutions, was “due to the commitment I have made to the organization, our patients and the work that still needs to be done here.”

President Barack Obama is searching for a new head of the veterans office after Eric Shinseki, the retired general who ran the agency, resigned following a barrage of criticism of the department’s health-care system. An internal audit reported systemic shortcomings including treatment delays, mismanagement and falsified records.

Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, declined to comment on Cosgrove’s statement.

Shinseki’s departure came after lawmakers from both parties demanded his resignation from an agency that spends $160 billion annually and provides medical care to more than 8.3 million veterans. The department’s troubles have emerged as a top priority for members of Congress.

Cosgrove, 73 and a heart surgeon by training, called his decision to withdraw “extraordinarily difficult.”

U.S. lawmakers had responded positively when news surfaced last week that Cosgrove was being considered for the VA job. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and Vietnam veteran, said he would be an “excellent” pick.

Obama’s Focus

Obama, at a May 30 press conference announcing Shinseki’s resignation, said the administration would “look diligently for a new permanent VA secretary, and we hope to confirm that successor and fill that post as soon as possible.”

At the VA, Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson took over on an interim basis after Shinseki’s resignation. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors remains on temporary assignment to the VA to assist with the transition and complete a review for Obama of the agency’s deficiencies.

A Veterans Affairs inspector general’s report on May 28 said some VA hospitals kept phony records to hide delays in treating veterans. Richard Griffin, the department’s acting inspector general, said there were repeated instances of altered waiting lists in a review of 42 VA medical facilities.

At the Phoenix facility that first focused widespread attention on the agency, as many as 1,700 veterans were “at risk of being lost or forgotten” when that hospital left them off an official list of patients waiting to see a doctor, according to the report.

McCain and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, last week agreed on a proposal to give veterans more options to seek care outside government-run hospitals.

The compromise, which may reach the Senate floor for a vote this week, also would let VA hospitals hire more doctors and nurses and pay to lease 26 new medical facilities in 18 states. It would cost more than $1.5 billion, lawmakers said.

--With assistance from Alex Wayne and Michael C. Bender in Washington and Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis.