Senate approves new Veterans Affairs health care chief

FILE - In this April 2, 2015, file photo, a visitor leaves the Sacramento Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Rancho Cordova, Calif. The number of veterans seeking health care but ending up on waiting lists of one month or more is 50 percent higher now than it was a year ago when a scandal over false records and long wait times wracked the Department of Veterans Affairs, The New York Times reported Saturday, June 20, 2015, online ahead of its Sunday editions. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
FILE - In this April 2, 2015, file photo, a visitor leaves the Sacramento Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Rancho Cordova, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Department of Veterans Affairs has a new leader of its troubled health care arm.

Dr. David Shulkin, president of the Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey, won approval as the VA’s undersecretary for health by a voice vote Tuesday in the Senate.

Shulkin steps into a key role managing a health-care system responsible for 9 million military veterans in nearly 1,000 VA hospitals and clinics nationwide. The VA was rocked by scandal last year over long waits for veterans seeking medical care at the Phoenix VA hospital and other sites and falsified records to cover up the delays.

President Barack Obama nominated Shulkin in March to head the Veterans Health Administration, the VA’s health care arm.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said Shulkin faces several serious ongoing issues, particularly the implementation of the Veterans Choice Act, a law approved by Congress last year to overhaul the VA in the wake of the Phoenix scandal.

The law authorized $16 billion in new spending over three years, mostly for private care outside the VA, and made it easier to fire poor performing VA executives. The law authorized billions to hire more doctors, nurses and other medical and mental health professionals for VA hospitals and clinics.

Isakson said in a statement that he looks forward to working with Shulkin to address issues facing the VA and “ensure that the VA is well-equipped to deliver the best possible care and services to our veterans.”

Dr. Carolyn Clancy, an assistant deputy undersecretary, has been serving as interim undersecretary for health since last year. Dr. Robert Petzel stepped down as undersecretary in May 2014 in the wake of the Phoenix scandal.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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