By Emily Stephenson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Toby Cosgrove, the head of the prestigious Cleveland Clinic who the White House had considered nominating to lead the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, said on Saturday he had withdrawn from consideration for that position.
Cosgrove, 73, a Vietnam veteran and surgeon, was in the running to replace former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned on May 30 amid a political firestorm over widespread delays in veterans' medical care.
Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson has been leading the agency while President Barack Obama looks for a permanent replacement. Last week, Cosgrove was said to be under consideration.
In a statement on Saturday, Cosgrove said he was honored to have been considered for the VA position and had great respect for veterans.
"This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision, but I have decided to withdraw from consideration from this position and remain at the Cleveland Clinic, due to the commitment I have made to the organization, our patients and the work that still needs to be done here," Cosgrove said.
The Cleveland Clinic under Cosgrove has looked to broaden its reach by opening a large, super-modern specialty hospital in Abu Dhabi.
White House officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Cosgrove's decision.
The VA scandal began with reports of schemes to hide long patient wait times at facilities in Phoenix, and has since spread to other parts of the country. The agency's inspector general now is probing 42 separate VA healthcare locations.
Gibson, the department's acting head, told reporters in Phoenix on Thursday that VA staff had contacted 1,700 veterans whose names appeared on secret waiting lists and found that 18 of them had already died.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)