White House official to visit Ohio VA hospitals

Cleveland Clinic CEO mentioned as possible replacement for VA secretary

Numerous news organizations have reported that Toby Cosgrove, chief executive officer of the Cleveland Clinic and a Vietnam veteran, was approached by the Obama administration to replace Shinseki as head of the embattled agency.

Meanwhile, Rob Nabors, deputy White House chief of staff who has been assigned by President Barack Obama to deal with the ongoing VA controversy, is expected today to meet with officials of the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati and have a private tour of the facility. A similar itinerary is on tap for Friday at the VA medical center in Columbus.

Carl Higginbotham, a spokesman for the Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus, said Nabors’ visit, scheduled for three hours, will include a “listen and learn” session.

U.S. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that he too will tour the Columbus center Friday and host a town hall meeting with veterans.

Portman said he will discuss the backlog of benefit claims, recent reports of fraudulent management of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) medical appointment records, and his recently introduced legislation, the Medical Evaluation Parity for Servicemembers (MEPS) Act, which he says will improve how the military identifies and assesses mental health issues.

Nabors and Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson are preparing a review for Obama of the VA administration’s approach to access of care, an issue that is bringing a fresh round of political fire.

House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday called the VA controversy a “national disgrace” and urged Obama to “lay out for the American people” a plan for overhauling a “clearly a broken system.”

In a sharply worded letter dispatched to the White House Wednesday, the West Chester Twp. Republican wrote that Shinseki’s resignation was not sufficient to deal with the “fundamental problem — which is the abject failure of the department to meet the needs of our veterans.”

The letter, signed by Boehner and House Republican leaders, re-iterated support for privatizing some or all of the VA’s functions.

The troubled agency has faced increased scrutiny after reports of rampant mismanagement at the VA, including lengthy lists of veterans waiting for care that were obscured by officials at the agency.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Wednesday made a strong statement in support of Cosgrove, who he said has “served our nation proudly in Vietnam and presides over 5.5 million visits per year to the Cleveland Clinic, which has won awards for consumer choice, medical innovation, and medical care.”

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, said Cosgrove would be “an outstanding choice to lead the VA, and I urge President Obama to seriously consider him for the position. Although we would hate to lose him in Cleveland, he would be a perfect fit for this job.”

(Catherine Candisky of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this story.)

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