Top VA official resigns under fire

 

Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health at the Veterans Affairs Department, resigned on Friday, one day after testifying before a Senate panel.

Petzel, who had been slated to retire later this year, stepped down in the wake of allegations that some VA facilities kept secret wait lists to cover up how long veterans were kept waiting to receive care.

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“Today, I accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement. “As we know from the Veteran community, most Veterans are satisfied with the quality of their VA health care, but we must do more to improve timely access to that care.”

Shinseki thanked Petzel for his 40 years of service in the VA system.

Petzel appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday and admitted he was aware of a 2010 memo titled “Inappropriate Scheduling Practices” that had been sent to all 21 VA service regions.

“We have been working continuously to try and identify where those sites are and what we need to do to prevent that from happening. It's absolutely inexcusable,” he told lawmakers.

"The individuals are, as you mentioned, held accountable. I can't give you an example specifically, but if someone were found to be manipulating inappropriately the scheduling system, they would be disciplined," Petzel said. 

But, he added, "I don't know whether anybody was specifically disciplined around that issue."

Critics of the VA said that Petzel’s departure was not enough to ensure greater accountability within the agency.

“Petzel’s ‘resignation’ is the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak,” House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said in a statement. 

“Petzel was already scheduled to retire in 2014 and President Obama has already announced his intention to nominate Petzel’s replacement, so characterizing this as a ‘resignation’ just doesn’t pass the smell test,” he added.

He also slammed Shinseki for delivering an “out-of-touch performance” before the Senate.

“We don’t need the VA to find a scapegoat; we need an actual plan to restore a culture of accountability throughout the VA,” said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

This story was updated at 4:31 p.m.