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Two top Veterans Affairs officials leave agency, VA says

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday announced the departure of two senior officials in the wake of a scandal over concealed and extensive delays in providing medical care for veterans.

Robert Jesse, the current acting undersecretary for health, will complete his four-year term as principal deputy undersecretary for health on July 2, the Veterans' Affairs department said in a statement. In addition, Will Gunn, the department's general counsel, has resigned.

The undersecretary for health leads the programs of the Veterans' Health Administration, which runs the sprawling VA health system. Outrage erupted when it became known that officials hid that veterans were being made to wait for lengthy periods to get primary medical care and that in some cases those delays led to deaths.

At a hearing earlier this month, Jesse had to defend at a hearing of the House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Committee his timing in informing lawmakers about an outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease at a veterans' hospital.

Carolyn Clancy, the agency's assistant deputy undersecretary for health, will take his place and be named the interim undersecretary for health, the VA said.

"Dr. Clancy will be charged with the department’s top priority – getting veterans off of wait lists and in to see their doctors," Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said.  "She will also lead our efforts on immediate, national reforms to accelerate access to care and restore trust among our veterans."

Obama accepted the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last month over the scandal.

When news of delays first broke, Robert Petzel, the undersecretary for health at the time, stepped down.

The agency will conduct a search for a permanent replacement for the health undersecretary post, Gibson said. Obama has also pledged to name a new VA secretary.

Principal Deputy General Counsel Tammy Kennedy will serve as acting general counsel, the agency said.

Earlier this month the VA said an internal audit found more than 100,000 veterans had been subjected to a wait of 90 days or more for appointments at medical facilities nationwide.

It also found that staff at 76 percent of the facilities surveyed said they had been instructed at least once to misrepresent appointment data. Doctors at VA clinics in Phoenix have alleged that some 40 veterans died while waiting for care.

(Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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