President Barack Obama’s choice to be the top health official at the Veterans Affairs Department withdrew his nomination Thursday, saying he feared his confirmation could spark a prolonged political battle.
Jeffrey Murawsky, health care chief for the VA’s Chicago-based regional office, was nominated last month to be the department’s new undersecretary for health care, replacing Robert Petzel, who resigned under pressure. Petzel had been scheduled to retire later this year but was asked to leave early amid a firestorm over delays in patient care and preventable deaths at veterans hospitals.
Murawsky now oversees seven VA hospitals and 30 clinics in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan, including one in suburban Chicago where there are allegations that its staff used secret lists to conceal long patient wait times for appointments. Murawsky was a doctor at the Hines, Illinois, hospital and technically remains on staff.
The VA medical system is desperately broken, despite being funded at a rate that has outstripped the number of veterans receiving services and the rate of medical services inflation. Dr. Murawsky may be a very good man but two things are evident. First, he’s been inside the VA for nearly twenty years. Second, one of the hospitals — Hines VA Hospital in Chicago, where he also served on staff — is embroiled in the phantom waiting list scandal. It needs an overhaul. John McCain’s bill giving veterans the option of seeking medical care outside the VA system and making it easier to fire miscreants in the VA should be embraced. The new head of Veterans Health should come from the outside and should arrive with a charter to and a deadline for making measurable and observable progress.