A major veterans group has challenged the reappointment of Kenneth Kizer, M.D., as head of the veterans healthcare system, but the challenge probably won't stop the Senate from confirming him, said congressional aides and activists.
However, the action could raise enough questions about Kizer's management of the Department of Veterans Affairs' 900-facility system that his current four-year term could expire before the Senate reconfirms him. That could result in a leadership vacuum, according to activists and congressional aides.
"Delay could be deadly," said a Senate aide, who requested anonymity.
Citing reduced capacity at VA spinal cord injury centers across the country, the Paralyzed Veterans of America has called on President Clinton to choose a new nominee (Aug. 31, p. 4).
The 18,000-member group said Kizer's restructuring of the VA healthcare system into 22 integrated networks receiving capitated funding has resulted in poor-quality care and reduced access to spinal cord injury centers for paralyzed veterans.
VA officials would not comment on the PVA's objections.
Officials of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, whose membership dwarfs that of the PVA, said they support Kizer's restructuring of the VA. They said the problem is not Kizer's management, but inadequate funding.
Kizer was confirmed in 1994. His position as VA health undersecretary is limited to a four-year term under the law that made the VA a Cabinet-level department.
Senate Democratic aides, who asked not to be identified, said the PVA's objections would be added to a list of concerns about Kizer's renomination, including his search for jobs outside the VA and a "disdain" for congressional advice about running the system.
They're also concerned that the Clinton administration sent Kizer's renomination late to Capitol Hill. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has not been able to hold hearings on Kizer's renomination even though little time remains before Congress adjourns Oct. 9 and Kizer's term expires.
The administration and Capitol Hill disagree on the latter point. Senate aides said his term expires Sept. 29, but VA officials said it expires Oct. 23.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the senior Democrat on the VA committee, said despite his past criticism of Kizer's rocky relationship with Congress, he wants Kizer to continue in the position.
"I think continuity has its point," Rockefeller said.