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VA's Top Health Care Official Stepping Down

By Ed O'Keefe
Michael J. Kussman
Dr. Michael J. Kussman, testifying before a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on June 21, 2006. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The Veterans Affairs undersecretary responsible for the nation's largest health care system will retire May 9, according to the department. Dr. Michael J. Kussman first joined the VA in 2000 and has held various military and government positions for 37 years. VA officials stress his retirement is routine and in no way tied to a recently launched VA investigation to determine possible links between a VA patient's positive HIV test and unsterilized medical equipment that may have exposed thousands of veterans to infectious diseases.

As undersecretary for health since May 2007, Kussman has directed a health system that cares for more than 5.6 million veterans, employs 231,000 people and operates 1,400 facilities with an approximately $40.2 billion annual budget.

He began his military career in 1970, serving with the 7th Infantry Division in Korea and left active duty in 1972 to earn a medical degree. Kussman returned to active duty in 1979 and has climbed the ranks ever since, holding several positions with several military medical facilities.

"I've appreciated the tremendous opportunity VA has given me to continue to serve those with whom I served while in uniform," Kussman said in a statement. "VA has a reputation for providing 'the best care anywhere,' and I hope I have helped to enhance that reputation."

But that reputation may face new strains, pending the results of an investigation the VA launched late last Friday.

Seventeen veterans that received endoscopic procedures at VA facilities in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida between 2003 and 2009 have tested positive for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, or HIV. Five tested positive for Hepatitis B, 11 for Hepatitis C and one for HIV, according to VA.

"These results do not indicate that there is any relationship between these patients’ conditions and the endoscopy procedures they underwent. However, VA is conducting an epidemiologic investigation to look into the possibility of such a relationship," according to a statement.

The department notified more than 10,000 veterans earlier this year about possible exposure to unsanitary medical equipment and so far 3,174 have been notified of test results, according to the department.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 7, 2009; 2:20 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Revolving Door  
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