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VA starts looking for new health chief

Sep. 20, 2013 - 11:20AM   |  
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The Veterans Affairs Department will soon launch a search for a new under secretary for health.

Dr. Robert Petzel, the current health chief who has spent 40 years working for VA, has announced he will retire in 2014 but will stay on the job until his successor is confirmed by Congress.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said Petzel’s willingness to stay until there is a replacement will “ensure a smooth transition.”

By law, a commission is required to identify candidates and make recommendations to the White House for the post, although the final recommendation for a nominee rests with president.

The VA health secretary, responsible for a health care system with 6.3 million beneficiaries and 286,000 employees, is supposed to be appointed based solely on experience in the medical profession and particularly in the Veterans Health Administration, Political affiliation is not supposed to be part of the equation.

The commission reviewing candidates must include people with clinical and management experience in veterans’ health and at least two people who represent veterans. Additionally, at least one previous VA under secretary for health must be on the commission.

Recommendations from the commission go to the VA secretary, who cannot alter the list of candidates but may make comments when forwarding a candidate or candidates to the president, under the law. After receiving the recommendations, the president may ask the commission to recommend additional candidates.

This is not a fast process, VA officials said, which is why it is helpful that Petzel has provided long advance notice of his retirement.

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