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April 30, 2018

The short list for VA secretary: Top execs from Cleveland Clinic, Ascension, and more, according to Modern Healthcare

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    President Trump on Friday said "some exceptional people" are interested in serving as the next Veteran Affairs (VA) secretary, and senators are saying they hope Trump's new pick for the role will be less controversial than Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who last week withdrew from his nomination for the job.

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    Trump in a series of tweets in March announced that he would nominate Jackson, who at the time was serving as the White House's top physician, to replace former VA Secretary David Shulkin.

    Lawmakers and veterans service organizations had questioned whether Jackson had the management experience needed to lead VA, which has 1,200 medical facilities across the United States. In addition, Democrats on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs last week released a report summarizing allegations by 23 of Jackson's current and former colleagues that the White House Medical Office under Jackson was a hostile work environment, as well as that Jackson permitted the overprescribing of drugs, consumed alcohol while working, and crashed a government vehicle while intoxicated.

    Jackson denied the allegations, but on Thursday he withdrew from consideration for the nomination.

    According to NPR's "The Two-Way," a White House official said a White House investigation found no evidence supporting the allegations against Jackson, and instead found evidence refuting some of the claims. Still, sources say Jackson is unlikely to return to his post as Trump's physician, Politico reports. According to the sources, Sean Conley, a Navy officer who took over as Trump's personal physician last month, will continue in the role.

    Sens. want VA pick with less controversy

    According to The Hill, Democratic and Republican senators over the past few days have said they hope Trump now will nominate a less controversial choice for VA secretary.

    In the past, nominees for VA secretary have received bipartisan support. For example, the senate voted unanimously to approve Shulkin's nomination. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said, "I think everyone has, over the years, felt like there are some issues that shouldn't become political footballs, and dealing with America's veterans should be one of those."

    Trump says 'some excellent people' are interested in VA secretary role

    Trump on Friday said has "many people that want the [VA secretary] position," The Hill reports.

    Trump said, "We have some excellent people, some very political people" interested in the role, adding, "Your new head of the VA is going to be very exceptional. We have some exceptional people who want to do the job."

    According to Modern Healthcare, among the people Trump is considering for the role are:

    • Ascension President and CEO Anthony Tersigni;
    • Former Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove;
    • Former Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who had chaired the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs; and
    • Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

    Modern Healthcare reports that Tersigni might have an advantage over the other potential nominees because of his experience with health care and issues affecting veterans.

    According to Modern Healthcare, Ascension, which is the largest Catholic health system in the United States, is one of the most prominent health systems participating in the Veterans Choice Program. Through the program, Ascension has provided about 10,000 veterans with primary, behavioral health, and mental health care services over the past 18 months. Tersigni in a commentary last year wrote that he believes "public-private partnerships" like the Choice Program might help veterans receive treatments such as transplants and limb repairs.

    A GOP consultant who worked in the White House said Tersigni "knows how to run a large medical system, and the people who have the president's ear know he is conversant and well-informed in issues that are important to the VA, and that checks a box." The consultant added, "Tersigni has a paper trail in a very good way" (Kamisar, The Hill, 4/27; Aguilar, Modern Healthcare, 4/29; Weixel, The Hill, 4/27; Johnson, Politico, 4/29; Rascoe, "The Two-Way," NPR, 4/27; Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 4/28; Gardner/Min Kim, Washington Post, 4/28; Weixel, The Hill, 4/27).

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