Health care CEO emerges as can­di­date for VA chief

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY DAVE BOYER

The CEO of the na­tion’s sec­ond-largest health­care sys­tem has emerged as a can­di­date in Pres­i­dent Trump’s search for a new nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs.

An­thony Ter­signi of As­cen­sion met with se­nior White House of­fi­cials last Fri­day in a wide-rang­ing dis­cus­sion that touched on the VA, the Veter­ans Choice health­care pro­gram, the opi­oid epi­demic, drug prices and be­hav­ioral health, ac­cord­ing to a source fa­mil­iar with the meet­ing.

“They were ask­ing him about run­ning a large sys­tem,” said the source, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. “He’s known as a very dis­ci­plined, tight man­ager, which is what the VA needs.”

As the White House nar­rows its search for the next VA chief, the pres­i­dent in­vited an­other can­di­date into the me­dia spot­light Thurs­day: Act­ing VA Sec­re­tary Robert Wilkie, who ap­peared at the White House press podium to ac­cept Mr. Trump’s do­na­tion of his first-quar­ter salary for veter­ans’ health­care ser­vices.

“I am deeply, deeply grate­ful to Pres­i­dent Trump for pro­vid­ing me the op­por­tu­nity to serve Amer­ica’s veter­ans, and for his gen­eros­ity in sup­port­ing them,” Mr. Wilkie said.

The pres­i­dent tapped Mr. Wilkie, a top Pen­tagon of­fi­cial, to take over the VA tem­po­rar­ily in March af­ter Mr. Trump ousted Sec­re­tary David Shulkin, who an­gered the White House in a scan­dal over travel ex­penses. Mr. Shulkin, the first non­vet­eran to lead the agency, said later that he was fired be­cause he op­posed pri­va­tiz­ing some VA health­care ser­vices.

Sev­eral oth­ers are in the run­ning, in­clud­ing Jeff Miller, a Re­pub­li­can who re­tired from Congress last year af­ter serv­ing as chair­man of the House Veter­ans Af­fairs Com­mit­tee. Mr. Miller, now a lob­by­ist, met with White House of­fi­cials on May 2.

Mr. Ter­signi, who has led the na­tion’s largest Catholic health sys­tem for 13 years, sur­faced as a con­tender for the VA post af­ter the with­drawal of nom­i­nee Rear Adm. Ronny Jack­son.

Dr. Jack­son, who was serv­ing as the pres­i­dent’s physi­cian at the time of his nom­i­na­tion, with­drew amid al­le­ga­tions of per­sonal mis­con­duct.

The VA is the sec­ond-largest gov­ern­ment depart­ment be­hind the Pen­tagon, with more than 350,000 em­ploy­ees and a bud­get of about $186 bil­lion. An­other crit­i­cism of Dr. Jack­son was that he had never led such a large or­ga­ni­za­tion.

That wouldn’t be an is­sue for Mr. Ter­signi, 67, who over­sees a sys­tem with 165,000 em­ploy­ees and about 2,600 health care sites — more lo­ca­tions than the VA. He also has served in the Army Na­tional Guard.

As­cen­sion also is the largest provider for the Veter­ans Choice pro­gram, which al­lows veter­ans who can’t ob­tain timely ap­point­ments within the VA sys­tem or live more than 40 miles from a VA fa­cil­ity to seek pri­vate care.

“He would be the anti-Ronny Jack­son in the sense that he’s on pa­per a strong, re­ally qual­i­fied can­di­date who has ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, health-care ex­pe­ri­ence, ex­pe­ri­ence with the VA,” the source said.

Some veter­ans groups say Mr. Wilkie has been do­ing a good job in his brief stint at the VA, while oth­ers have filed a law­suit ob­ject­ing to the pres­i­dent in­stalling Mr. Wilkie over VA Deputy Sec­re­tary Tom Bow­man.

Mr. Wilkie didn’t ad­dress his own sta­tus Thurs­day, but made sure to praise the pres­i­dent for his ges­ture of do­nat­ing his pay­check to the VA.

“Pres­i­dent Trump un­der­stands the crit­i­cal role of care­givers in meet­ing the es­sen­tial needs of Amer­ica’s veter­ans,” Mr. Wilkie said. “So we have al­ready ear­marked this gift for care­giver sup­port in the form of men­tal health and peer sup­port pro­grams, fi­nan­cial aid, ed­u­ca­tion, train­ing and re­search.”

He also urged the Se­nate to take up Housep­a­ssed leg­is­la­tion that would al­low more veter­ans to see doc­tors out­side the VA sys­tem.

The bill, the VA MIS­SION Act, passed the House 347-70 this week.

“This [bill] takes seven com­mu­nity care pro­grams that we’ve been us­ing for the last 15 to 20 years and con­denses them into one,” Mr. Wilkie said. “It also makes it much eas­ier for our veter­ans to ob­tain care that they need at the mo­ment that they need it, in homes and in fa­cil­i­ties clos­est to where they live. We urge the Se­nate to take up the House bill and give it to Pres­i­dent Trump hope­fully be­fore Me­mo­rial Day.”


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