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Cleveland Clinic leader Cosgrove drops from competition to run Veterans Affairs

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FILE: Nov. 12, 2011: Dr.Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, in Honolulu, Hawaii. (REUTERS)

A top Obama administration prospect to run the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs withdrew his name for the job Saturday.

Cleveland Clinic chief executive Dr. Toby Cosgrove acknowledged he had been contacted by the administration but said he wants to remain at his current job to complete his work.

“This has been an extraordinarily difficult decision, but I have decided to withdraw from consideration …  due to the commitment I have made to the organization, our patients and the work that still needs to be done here," said Cosgrove, a decorated Vietnam veteran.

President Obama has been looking for a replacement for department Secretary Eric Shinseki since accepting his May 30 resignation, which followed an inspector general’s report concluding widespread problems with providing veterans prompt medical care and "systemic" problems with clinics misrepresenting patient wait times. 

Cosgrove's decision is a signal of the difficulties the Obama administration may face in finding someone willing and able to tackle the VA's entrenched problems.

The report came weeks after allegations surfaced about “secret” waiting lists at a VA medical clinic in Phoenix, which resulted in a growing chorus of Democratic and Republican lawmakers calling for Shinseki’s resignation.

"I am humbled and honored to have been considered for the opportunity to help veterans across the United States,” Cosgrove also said. “This is an enormous responsibility and one that deserved careful thought and consideration.”

Considered one of the country’s premiere medical-research facilities and health-care providers, the Cleveland Clinic has been a favorite for Obama.

The announcement comes just days after President Obama's choice to be the top health official at the VA withdrew his nomination Thursday, saying he feared his confirmation could spark a prolonged political battle. 

Jeffrey Murawsky, health care chief for the VA's Chicago-based regional office, was nominated last month to be the department's new undersecretary for health care, replacing Robert Petzel, who resigned under pressure. Petzel had been scheduled to retire later this year but was asked to leave early amid a firestorm over delays in patient care and preventable deaths at veterans hospitals.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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