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February 9, 2016

VA’s Top Health Official Resigns Amid Scandal, Shinseki Announces (Updated)

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies during the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on "The State of VA Health Care" on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

Shinseki, who was on the Hill Thursday to testify about problems at the VA, announced Friday that a top official was resigning. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 4:05 p.m. | The chief health official at the Department of Veterans Affairs resigned Friday, amid an ongoing scandal about wait times and deaths within the VA health system.

“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.”

But one top congressional overseer called Shinseki’s announcement the “pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak.”

Petzel’s resignation came just a day after he accompanied Shinseki to the Hill to testify before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, with the two officials facing a barrage of questioning and skepticism about the departmental response to allegations about widespread deficiencies in the VA health system, including secret lists and deaths connected to a hospital facility in Phoenix.

“I am committed to strengthening Veterans’ trust and confidence in their VA healthcare system. I thank Dr. Petzel for his four decades of service to Veterans,” Shinseki said in his Friday statement.

House Veterans Affairs’ Chairman Jeff Miller dismissed Shinseki’s characterization of Petzel’s departure as a “resignation.”

“Today’s announcement from VA regarding Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel’s ‘resignation’ is the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak. 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,” the Florida Republican said in a statement.

“Desperate to get ahead of a delays in care crisis that is growing by the day, yet apparently unwilling to take substantive actions to hold any of its leaders accountable for negligence that harms veterans, VA has resorted to what it does best: splitting semantic hairs to create the illusion of accountability and progress,” Miller added. “After yesterday’s out-of-touch performance from Sec. Shinseki, I was disappointed. Today, I am even more disillusioned.”

Petzel had in fact already been on his way out of the VA health post. On May 1, the White House announced President Barack Obama planned to nominate Jeffrey A. Murawsky for the position. Murawsky has been the network director of the Veterans Integrated Service Network since 2009.

The White House has come under increasing, bipartisan pressure to take further steps to rectify the failings at the VA, but White House spokesman Jay Carney on Friday reasserted President Barack Obama’s support for Shinseki, who has pledged not to resign from his post unless the president tells him it is time to go.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., is among the lawmakers who have already called for Shinseki himself to resign.

“News of Undersecretary Petzel’s resignation is not a surprise as he was expected to retire in the near future,” Moran said in a statement. “However, it is evidence of the dysfunction at the VA. It is important to note that Undersecretary Petzel was the only VA witness at the Senate VA Committee hearing who admitted knowledge of IG reports — he should not shoulder the blame for VA’s failures. 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.”

  • papal

    It is not surprising that this problem would happen during a democratic administration. The progressive dems have never held the military in high esteem. Welfare folks and illegal immigrants have always ranked higher on the dem priority. But the fact that a govt has made promises the govt couldn’t keep has been known for a while. Bush even curtailed veterans benefits by changing the rules at VA hospitals so that if a vet made over a certain amount they could not use the VA So the perfect storm of aging WW2, Korean, Vietnam vets, and the Bush war vets have overburdened a system that can’t handle the load. A good example how a govt run healthcare will operate, not very good., but it is poetic that it collapses during a dem administration.

  • BMarie

    Our resources as a nation are limited (altho you wouldn’t know it from the debt we are carrying). Time, people and money are finite. We need a bottom up review of all government run programs, including the smallest ones, and real systems of accountability and responsibility put into place. The fact that we provide psychiatric counseling to convicted criminals, or ridiculous medical treatment such as hormone therapy for gender identity problems for criminals, when our vets are languishing on long waiting lists, is so stupid for the most advanced nation on the face of the earth (well, we used to be) that it is a travesty of justice. If it was up to me (and maybe a good thing it isn’t) I would put Sheriff Joe in charge of the nation’s prison system and put our vets at the top of any medical treatment lists, whether at the VA or anywhere else. Certainly ahead of illegal immigrants and convicted criminals.

  • Ghostbuster

    Problem is, a “bottom up review” would have to be done by the Senate Oversight Committee. Er, ah, um, under Harry Reid! (Ain’t gonna happen!)

  • Ghostbuster

    Problem is, a “bottom up review” would have to be done by the Senate Oversight Committee. Er, ah, um, under Harry Reid! (Ain’t gonna happen!)

  • Michael Nunez – A53

    Here were find liar-in-chief, Hussein Obama, lying to the face of the American people:

  • Murph Johnston

    In a related CNN video, liberal democrat hack Piers Morgan calls out Obama for his lies about Obamacare:

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