Heart Check: Dick Cheney Signed Secret Resignation Letter Due to Poor Health

Cheney is promoting a book he wrote about his life of heart problems.

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Dick Cheney said his heart disease led the former vice president to sign a secret resignation letter to be used in the event he was disabled by a heart attack while in office and that he initially refused the Republican campaign nomination in 2000.

Cheney's heart problems began in 1978 with his first heart attack and culminated with a heart transplant in 2012, he explained Tuesday during an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to discuss his book, "Heart: An American Medical Odyssey."

When Cheney was elected he discovered the Constitution does not have a provision to replace the vice president if he is still alive, so he signed a secret resignation letter to be used in case he was disabled by a heart attack. Only former president George W. Bush and Cheney's counsel, David Addington, knew about the letter. Addington kept the letter at home and even saved it from a house fire, Cheney said.

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Cheney added that he "didn't want to be vice president" in the first place and by 2000 he was happy with his job as chief executive officer of Halliburton following his political career in Congress and the Department of Defense.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney leaves after attending the funeral service of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at St. Paul's Cathedral, in London, Wednesday, April 17, 2013.
For former Vice President Dick Cheney, shown here in April, heart problems began in 1978 with his first heart attack and culminated with a heart transplant in 2012.

"The first time I was approached about being vice president I said 'no way,'" said Cheney, who actually led the committee to find Bush's veep.

Lessons Cheney said he learned from decades of heart disease are "stress comes from spending your life doing what you don't want to do" and if you hesitate going to the emergency room if you think you are having a heart attack "you're a damn fool."

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With that in mind, Cheney said he agreed to be the vice presidential candidate during the 2000 campaign, but he told the GOP, "If I have a twinge in the middle of the vice presidential debate, I'm out of there; I'm headed for the nearest emergency room."

Heart medicine kept advancing to help Cheney maintain his health during 35 years of heart problems, but he did not receive "VIP treatment" when he got a donor for a heart transplant, said his doctor Jonathan Reiner, who co-authored the book. Cheney said he waited 20 months for a heart donation, which is longer than the average 10 months it typically takes.

"There is no way to game the system," Reiner said of the waiting line for organ donations. "Being vice president offered him no advantage."


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