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Manchester VA whistleblower enters GOP race to challenge Rep. Kuster

  • Dr. Stewart Levenson speaks to the group of veterans and guests at Manchester’s Sweeney Post 2 on Monday, July 31, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file



Monitor staff
Thursday, October 05, 2017

A Hopkinton physician who gained prominence as one of the whistleblowers at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Manchester is running for Congress.

Stewart Levenson, 60, announced Wednesday he would be a Republican candidate for New Hampshire’s 2nd congressional district, where three-term Democrat Rep. Annie Kuster is the incumbent.

Levenson was one of several doctors who blew the whistle on substandard care at the Manchester VA in a Boston Globe expose this summer. The report lead to the ouster of several high-ranking officials and multiple federal investigations.

But Levenson, the former medical director of the New England VA network, said he’s not happy with the pace of change.

“I’m running because I just can’t remain on the sidelines anymore,” he said in an interview. “This is the next step, I suppose. I just can’t believe that something can’t be done. And that if no one else will do it, I’m going to do it.”

He also criticized Kuster, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, for doing too little to help. Levenson described going to the Congresswoman before the Globe as a disappointing experience.

“The first thing out of her mouth was that the VA in Manchester wasn’t in her district. I mean, we were dumbfounded. And then when she did allow that some of her constituents went to the VA, she suggested writing an anonymous letter to the (Office of Inspector General),” he said.

A spokesman for Kuster declined to comment.

Another whistleblower, Ed Kois, a spine and pain specialist at the Manchester VA, has been more complimentary of Kuster than Levenson has. In a congressional field hearing called by Kuster last month, Kois testified that she had helped lay the “groundwork” for reforms.

“The Boston Globe article July 15 really broke this story wide open. But the groundwork had been laid by Senator Shaheen and by Representative Kuster,” he said.

A widower, Levenson is a native of Queens, N.Y. He attended the City University of New York for his undergraduate degree and went to medical school at Ohio State University.

He worked as an emergency room doctor in New York and then trained as a rheumatologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. He’s been in New Hampshire for nearly 20 years, he said, working at the Manchester VA. He was its chair of medicine from 2011 to 2017.

Levenson called health care “the most important issue in this part of the 21st century” and said it would be a centerpiece of his campaign.

He said the Affordable Care Act needed to be replaced because premiums were unaffordable, but said certain aspects of the law should be treated as “sacred cows” and remain in place. That includes the parts of the ACA that prohibit insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, that allow young adults under 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance, and that facilitate expanded Medicaid.

“As long as those remain in the foundation, there’s very little else I wouldn’t be willing to negotiate on,” he said. “I mean, let’s roll up our sleeves and find something.”

In a statement announcing his run, Levenson also named border security and tax reform as key issues. This is his first run for public office.

“Just as President Trump has shown, when political outsiders are elected to office they are able to make the tough decisions that partisan politicians won’t make,” he said in a statement.

Former New Hampshire House majority leader Jack Flanagan of Brookline is the only other declared Republican candidate. This race will be Flanagan’s second bid for the seat.

Levenson has retained the Concord firm b-fresh consulting for help on his campaign.

(Ethan DeWitt contributed to this report. Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)