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Critics not satisfied after top VA official resigns

By Pauline Jelinek & Mathew Daly

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:08 p.m. HST, May 16, 2014

WASHINGTON >> The top official for veterans' health care resigned Friday amid a firestorm over delays in care and falsified records at veterans' hospitals.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki says he has accepted the resignation of Robert Petzel, the department's undersecretary for health care. Shinseki had asked for the resignation, a department official later said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, mocked the announcement, calling it "the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak" since Petzel had been scheduled to retire this year anyway. The American Legion, which has called for Shinseki to resign, said pretty much the same thing: "This move by VA is not a corrective action, but a continuation of business as usual."

The White House said President Barack Obama supports Shinseki's decision on Petzel and thanks Petzel for his service. "As the president has said, America has a sacred trust with the men and women who have served our country in uniform and he is committed to doing all we can to ensure our veterans have access to timely, quality health care," the White House said.

The announcement came a day after Shinseki, a Kauai native,P and Petzel were grilled at a four-hour hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, where lawmakers and veteran groups expressed exasperation of long-standing problems at the department.

Meanwhile, House Republicans scheduled a vote for Wednesday on legislation that would give Shinseki more authority to fire or demote senior executives and administrators at the agency and its 152 medical centers.

When senior leaders in the VA "fail the men and women who have put their lives on the line for our country, they deserve a pink slip - not a bonus," House Speaker John Boehner said Friday. While some Republicans in Congress have joined the call for Shinseki to resign, Boehner is not among them.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has backed Shinseki but appeared to waver after Shinseki came before a Senate committee this week.

"If he doesn't give a better answer, then I'm not sure how he wouldn't have to do anything but resign," McCain told Fox News Channel Thursday night.

McCain said he believes problems at the VA go beyond incompetence.

"If these allegations are true people should be going to jail, not just resigning their positions," he said, adding that a criminal investigation by the Justice Department appears inevitable.

"Everything I've seen is going to lead us to the attorney general," McCain said.

Reports of long waits for appointments and processing benefit applications have plagued VA for years. The agency has shortened backlogs but allegations of unnecessary deaths that may be linked to delays at the Phoenix VA hospital have triggered an election-year firestorm. A whistleblower there alleged that up to 40 people may have died while awaiting appointments and that staff kept a secret appointment list to mask the delays.

Shinseki asked the VA inspector general to investigate. And an initial review of 17 people who died while awaiting appointments at the Phoenix hospital found that none of their deaths appeared to have been caused by delays in treatment, acting inspector general Richard Griffin told senators Thursday. But he also said new complaints about wait lists and falsified patient appointment had surfaced at other VA hospitals and clinics after the Phoenix allegations came to light. At least 10 new allegations about manipulated waiting times and other problems have surfaced in the past three weeks, he said.

Petzel was scheduled to retire this year, and Shinseki last fall had convened a commission to recommend candidates for presidential appointment to be the new undersecretary. VA is required by law to convene a commission to seek and review candidates for the position.

Petzel had agreed to remain until the Senate confirmed a replacement. President Obama this month announced his intent to nominate Dr. Jeffrey A. Murawsky to be undersecretary for health.

"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," Shinseski said in a statement announcing Friday that Petzel was leaving.

In his position, Petzel oversaw what officials say is the largest health care delivery system in the U.S. The VA operates 1700 hospitals, clinics and other facilities around the country. They employ about 300,000 people and serve about 6.5 million veterans and other beneficiaries each year.

Miller wrote the legislation that is to be taken up next week. He said Friday that the resignation announcement shows the VA is "apparently unwilling to take substantive actions to hold any of its leaders accountable."

Shinseki on Thursday told senators he was "mad as hell" about allegations of severe problems and said he was looking for quick results from a nationwide audit. He has rejected calls for him to resign.

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bully106 wrote:
first thing the VA needs to do is decide what is acceptable level of service. a friend just signed up for VA health benefits (good service...VERY good service) but was told the first he could get an appointment was 6 months. WTF??????
on May 16,2014 | 01:30PM
retire wrote:
The VA has always been a mess, regardless of which party is in power.
on May 16,2014 | 02:14PM
Kalaheo1 wrote:
Thank you. That is the most accurate assessment I've heard lately.

I do think it's important to remember that the VA system is what happens when the Feds manage a health care system.

on May 16,2014 | 03:21PM
loio wrote:
get ready, America, this is where Obama and his fellow travelers are pushing the NATIONAL health care system
on May 16,2014 | 04:52PM
cojef wrote:
Are saying what has happened at the VA currently, portend what will come about with ACA? In it's present form not likely, but will predictably happen when converted to single payer system, which is the ultimate goal of the progressive liberals.
on May 17,2014 | 08:15AM
localguy wrote:
Lets not forget how congress willfully mismanages the USPS. Can't do the USA budget on time to standard, approval ratings for job performance are in the gutter for decades.
on May 17,2014 | 08:17AM
iwanaknow wrote:
Maybe Petzel can come be UH-President or run our Hawaii Connect since he's looking for a job?
on May 16,2014 | 02:37PM
inverse wrote:
That is the Hawaii style. UH hired Greenwood after basically getting fired (ask to resign same thing) amid scandal in the Univ California system and HART hired Grabby after "leaving" the Boston Big Dig fiasco. You are correct Pretzel would fit right in as Pres of UH or in charge of the Hawaii Health Connector
on May 17,2014 | 07:12AM
cojef wrote:
Memories, sound like there was song with that moniker.
on May 17,2014 | 08:16AM
DanLBoom wrote:
Wasn't he?? Dishing the dirt to the Bush administartion. Not doing so good now on the receiving end,huh.."What goes around comes around'?Full Circle came back & bit him in the butt.Imua
on May 16,2014 | 02:40PM
HanabataDays wrote:
"Republicans scheduled a vote on legislation that would give Shinseki more authority to fire or demote senior executives and administrators at the agency and its 152 medical centers." I bet this'll work out like our State Constitution amendment pushed by the GOP that allowed the legislature to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Too bad for Hawaii's GOP, the legislature elected not to. Too bad for Congress' GOP, Shinseki will probably elect the same course.
on May 16,2014 | 03:28PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
So the guy already heading out took the fall. His boss, who has been there for 5 years, sticks around. Typical Washington politics ans more reasons for the lack of faith of everyday Americans in the system.
on May 16,2014 | 05:20PM
inverse wrote:
That is Shinseki's failure. He is not stoopid so either fight for correcting the problems in the VA or protest and resign before all this systemic evidence of fraud and criminal negligence in the VA become public. Same thing happened with General Colin Powell. Brave soldier and great military leader but Powell was a willing pawn when he was the one at the UN and gave bogus info about Iraq's bogus mobile weapons factory. He knew something was wrong because at the time of the UN he required George Tenet of the CIA to sit behind him when he made the bogus assertion which was used to wrongfully invade Iraq for a second time. The knew it was a lie as the ex Iraqi who made the assertion was nicknamed 'cureveball' by US interviewers. Just like the Obama admin knew the attack on the US ambassador Stevens in Libya was a terrorist attack and NOT a result of a spontaneous demo due to a video. The lying such as Nixon on Watergate, Clinton on Lewinsky, Bush2 and the false pretenses to invade Iraq and take down Hussein and now the IRS-Lerner scandal, Benghazi murders and now VA secret lists that resulted in the death of many American vets has to be held accountable. Shinseki, a great warrior from Hawaii, unfortunately like Powell for political reasons turned a blind eye to what was going on and eventually will have to resigned and be disgraced for the rest of his career and unless gets a local job in Hawaii will never rise to the level of someone like Inouye. Sad...
on May 17,2014 | 07:32AM
localguy wrote:
Quite a post but there is no proof Shinseki actually knew this was going on. As we have seen, people are good at hiding their failures to perform.
on May 17,2014 | 08:19AM
cojef wrote:
Like you say great generals do not make for good CEO in the private sector because of accountability. Military commands survive because of structure and discipline, whereas, is the government and private sector it much more difficult to accomplish reforms when restricted by cumbersome union worker rules, and most importantly political pressures. During my tenure as a federal employee there were only a small percentage of union covered employees and it was very easy to fire an employee.
on May 17,2014 | 08:25AM
serious wrote:
I agree with some of the blogs. Having tried to maneuver through the bureaucracy of the system I can note: too many people doing too little and duplication at all levels. The VA hospital is next to Tripler but they are redundant in every department. People sitting on their butts in one area and weeks of backlog in another. We need a clean sweep like the base closure commission to do it without political intervention.
on May 16,2014 | 08:47PM
CampusAdRec wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on May 16,2014 | 11:20PM
Slow wrote:
!. If you have evidence of criminal activity why are you not turning it over to, say, the Attorney General. 2. This is a story about the Veterans Administration. UH is a pilau mess and if your evidence could help shine a light in dark hidden corners, please proceed.
on May 17,2014 | 07:06AM
inverse wrote:
If what you said is true did you make copies for evidence of fraud and send to the Feds and national media and demand whistleblower protection? If not then no sense posting about this now.
on May 17,2014 | 07:17AM
MakahaBill wrote:
Fact of the matter is that the federal government has never taken care of its military veterans the way they should. Go to the National Archives and read the letters of veterans' widows begging for the pittance they were promised as pensions. Truly heartbreaking. Obviously there were no health care benefits then but things really haven't changed since then.
on May 17,2014 | 06:12AM
Slow wrote:
We love engaging ourselves in lengthy, devastating and ultimately futile wars. Great for the war machine. And now we have a nation full of physically and mentally scarred vets. But Shinseki assures us that most vets tell him the VA is doing a fine job. As the suicides mount. Let's have another war. Or just stay in Afghanistan another decade.
on May 17,2014 | 07:11AM
localguy wrote:
So typical of our elected bureaucrats. Totally clueless Sen. John McCain thinks he can have it both ways. When the US Senate and congress have willfully failed to do their jobs, can't establish a balanced US budget on time, to standard, have the lowest approval and job approval ratings ever, what hypocrisy. If anyone should resign first it is our entire US senate and congress. Lets not forget, our congress is directly responsible for the New England Compounding disaster when they failed to follow the advice of the surgeon general. He asked for FDA oversight, congress said no.
on May 17,2014 | 08:16AM
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