VA whistleblower jabs Kuster as he launches GOP challenge

  • Dr. Stewart Levenson speaks to a group of veterans and guests at Manchester’s Sweeney Post 2 on July 31. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor file

For the Monitor
Published: 10/5/2017 5:44:47 PM

Stewart Levenson says his bid for Congress could be the final step needed in order to improve conditions at the beleaguered Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The Hopkinton physician, a former New England Regional Director of the VA who grabbed region attention as leading member of the whistleblowers who spotlighted major deficiencies at the Manchester facility, said “I’m sure this is the right thing to do. If I don’t do it, no one else will.”

In a wide-ranging conversation Thursday with the Monitor, Levenson took aim at Rep. Annie Kuster, who sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, saying he would give the congresswoman an F for her efforts in trying to improve conditions at the Manchester VA center.

He also shared that he supported Donald Trump in New Hampshire’s Feb. 2016 presidential primary, but added that he would grade the President’s performance in the White House so far as “incomplete.”

Levenson on Wednesday announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. He became the second candidate to formally enter the race for the GOP nomination, joining former state House of Representatives Majority Leader Jack Flanangan, who’s making his second bid for the seat. The winner of next September’s GOP primary will face off against Kuster, the three-term Democrat.

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.

Levenson, who’s making his first run for political office, was critical of Kuster’s response to the problems at the VA and accused her of being dishonest about her role.

“I would give her an F for the subterfuge of coming out and saying how much she’s done for the veterans. If she came and said she tried but couldn’t do anything, I would give her at least a C-minus for effort,” he said.

“It was a year from the time we met with her until the Boston Globe article came out and all of sudden stuff is coming out like how ‘I was on it all along.’ And yet a month or two before the Globe article came out, she paid a visit to the Manchester VA expressing at least soft confidence rather than using her pulpit to further talk about our problems,” Levenson added. “Let’s at least be honest here.”

A spokesman for Kuster declined to respond to Levenson’s criticism.

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

But Levenson said that Kois urged him to run for Congress.

“It was Kois who put this idea in my head,” he said.

Levenson added that “we had a talk last night and he (Kois) expressed support” for his campaign.

The 60-year-old widower and father said he is still pessimistic about change coming to the Manchester VA. And he called the efforts by the state’s congressional delegation to convince the VA to turn the Manchester location into a full-service facility “a fait accompli. It’s another empty gesture.”

“I wouldn’t put money on it. I’ve been there long enough to know how this works,” he added.

But Levenson apparently hasn’t given up yet on the reform efforts by VA Secy. Dr. David Shulkin, saying “I still there’s a chance for him to do the right thing.”

Levenson was also critical of Kuster over the drug crisis, another issue critical to Granite Staters.

Asked about Kuster’s role as co-chair of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, Levenson said the congresswoman’s efforts were “a step in the right direction but certainly inadequate.”

On other key issues, Levenson called President Trump’s tax reform plan “a proposal without very many specifics and I’d like to see the specifics.”

“Overall I’d like to see a simplification of the tax process,” Levenson said.

But he cautioned that “we have to be fiscally responsible. That’s the yardstick by which I’ll judge it.”

Levenson wouldn’t discuss new efforts on gun control, which appear to be winning even some GOP converts in Congress in the wake of Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas.

“It’s way too soon to talk about this serious issue. Let’s grieve the dead and heal the injured and then let’s have a conversation based on logic rather than emotion,” he answered, when asked about possible legislation to ban the devices reportedly used by the shooter behind the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

Levenson, who numerous times described himself as a conservative, said he supported Trump in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

The native New Yorker said he was impressed by Trump’s role in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s “revitalizing Manhattan,” highlighting the then up and coming real estate mogul’s conversion of the faded Commodore Hotel on 42nd Street into the sleek and modern Grand Hyatt Hotel.

“I’m from New York City. Midtown Manhattan was a hell-hole before Donald Trump” took efforts to revitalize the neighborhood, Levenson explained. “He went up and down that side of Midtown and revitalized, when no one else would dare touch that.”

Levenson says the Trump presidency’s a work in progress.

“I would give him an incomplete. There’s a lot to be done. There’s been several missteps to start. Communications has been a huge problem, but he’s not a politician. He’s his own brand, as he’s proven. And there’s a very steep learning curve and I’m still hopeful that he’s going to fix health care and simplify the tax code,” he said.

Levensonsaid he sees his campaign as “an uphill fight” but touted “just watch. You’ll be surprised.”

And he hinted that “there have been some initial conversations” on getting the backing of influential Republicans.

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