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Obama assigns deputy chief of staff to Veterans Affairs review

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about transportation infrastructure during a visit to the Tappan Zee Bridge in Tarrytown, New York May 14
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about transportation infrastructure during a visit to the Tappan Zee Bridge in Tarrytown, New York May 14

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is dispatching his deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, to help oversee a review of the Department of Veterans Affairs as anger grows over evidence that veterans died while waiting for care.

Obama, through his spokesman, has voiced his confidence in Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki repeatedly, but the retired four star general has faced calls for his resignation following reports that up to 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments or specialist care at a VA hospital in Phoenix.

"While we get to the bottom of what happened in Phoenix, it's clear the VA needs to do more to ensure quality care for our veterans," Obama said Wednesday in a statement. "I'm grateful that Rob, one of my most trusted advisers, has agreed to work with Secretary Shinseki to help the team at this important moment."

The move demonstrated White House concern that the issue is taking on growing political weight. Shinseki is scheduled to testify about the problems before a Senate committee on Thursday.

Nabors, a former director of White House legislative affairs and former deputy budget director, will be re-assigned to Veterans Affairs on a temporary basis. Shinseki, who is spearheading the review, said in a statement released by the White House that he appreciated Nabors's help.

"I welcome Rob's perspective in helping us to ensure veterans have access to timely quality health care," he said. "If allegations about manipulation of appointment scheduling are true, they are completely unacceptable - to veterans, to me, and to our dedicated VA employees."

As more reports surface of alleged schemes to mask long wait times at VA hospitals and clinics, Shinseki's testimony will be critical to saving his job. White House support for the former general could dip if he fails to show credibly in his testimony to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that he was not aware of any cover-ups of appointment wait times.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Ken Wills)

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