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Health care expertsto help pickVA chief

| Tuesday, June 17, 2014, 9:33 p.m.

BALTIMORE — The White House has turned to health care experts and industry leaders in its effort to pick a new leader for the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency's interim leader said on Tuesday.

“This is one of the most important jobs in government today,” Sloan Gibson said at the Baltimore VA Center. “This is one position that has a greater opportunity to have an impact and make a lasting difference than any other opportunity in health care.”

Cleveland Clinic Chief Executive Delos Cosgrove, Disabled American Veterans Executive Director Garry Augustine, and Army Surgeon General Patricia Horoho are among the members of a nine-person panel discussing candidates, Gibson said.

Other panel members include Kenneth Kizer, a professor at the University of California, Davis; John Prescott of the Association of Medical Colleges; and Veterans of Foreign Wars Executive Director Bob Wallace, Gibson said.

Revelations of widespread delays in providing health care to veterans that in some cases led to fatalities has embarrassed President Obama, who campaigned on a pledge to improve veterans' care in 2008.

Furor over bottlenecks and revelations that VA officials concealed waiting lists to earn bonuses cost former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. Obama has pledged to quickly name a new full-time head of the agency and overhaul the veterans' healthcare system, which has about 9 million enrollees, 150 hospitals and 820 community-based outpatient clinics.

Cleveland Clinic's Cosgrove has been mentioned as a possible candidate to lead the VA but has said he does not want the job.

Maryland lawmaker Elijah Cummings said Gibson would need to restore trust in the agency.

“The idea of a patient waiting so long that they expire ... we are much better than that,” Cummings said.

Meanwhile, workers at the Phoenix VA Health Care System — where investigators say veterans' health was jeopardized when employees covered up long wait times for patients — received about $10 million in bonuses, newly released records show.

Documents from the VA indicate than 2,100 employees got bonuses during the course of a three-year period, the Arizona Republic reported on Tuesday.

The records, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show the bonuses kept increasing. The VA paid $2.5 million in 2011, $3.5 million in 2012 and $3.9 million last year. The merit-based bonuses were doled out to nearly 650 employees each of those years. The employees included doctors, nurses, administrators, secretaries and cleaning staff.

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