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Robert Petzel resigns as VA undersecretary amid hospital scandal

- The Washington Times - Friday, May 16, 2014

A senior official in the Department of Veterans Affairs resigned Friday, just one day after lawmakers called for more accountability in the Phoenix VA wait list scandal.

"Today, I accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, under secretary for health in the Department of 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."

The VA is part of a growing controversy that began last month when a whistleblower revealed that at least 40 veterans died at a Phoenix facility after allegedly being placed on a secret list to make wait times appear shorter. Since that report, others have come forward to reveal similar problems at other facilities across the country.

The American Legion, the first group to call for Mr. Shinseki to step down amid the allegations, said Dr. Petzel's resignation is a step in the right direction, but does not fix the long-time problems facing the healthcare system.

"Dr. Petzel's resignation is a step toward addressing the leadership problems at VA that have led to the terrible history of accountability and inefficiency we are seeing systemwide," said Daniel M. Dellinger, American Legion National Commander, in a statement. "More needs to be done to ensure changes are made that enable VA to properly care for America's veterans."

Mr. Shinseki was joined by Dr. Petzel when he appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday to respond to the allegations. The secretary said he would not fire any of the department's senior leadership until a report from the inspector general, expected to be finished in August, was completed.

Dr. Petzel was already planning to retire later this year and the White House announced May 1 that the president would nominate Jeffrey Murawsky as his successor. Dr. Murawsky has served as the network director of the Veterans Integrated Service Network since 2009.

Dr. Petzel's planned departure makes his resignation less significant, and the VA needs to do more than just find a scapegoat, said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

"There may indeed be serious doubts about Dr. Petzel's leadership as it relates to recent allegations of manipulating wait times for VA health care appointments, but his early departure does nothing to solve those concerns," Mr. Tarantino said in a statement. "Without real action from the VA, this token resignation just weeks before it was already scheduled to happen does nothing to rebuild faith in VA health care."

Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, said the resignation wasn't a surprise, but that Dr. Petzel shouldn't take all the blame for dysfunction in the department.

"Rather than the VA focusing on damage control, action should be taken immediately to change the bureaucratic culture of mediocrity at the VA and ensure the highest quality and most timely care for our nation's heroes," he said.

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