The resignation of a top Veterans Affairs official who was scheduled to retire anyway has been scoffed at by lawmakers and veterans groups who want greater consequences for a scandal at veterans hospitals.
Dr. Robert Petzel, Under Secretary for Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, resigned Friday following a recent CNN report that at least 40 veterans had died while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix VA Health Care system, apparently as a result of being placed on a “secret waiting list,” and hints of similar trouble at other VA hospitals.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki alluded to the scandal when announcing Petzel’s retirement in a statement to Stars & Stripes: “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 this resignation will do little to quell the growing scandal.
Last week, The American Legion — one of the nation’s oldest and most influential veterans organisations — called for Shinseki and two other officials to resign, according to The New York Times. The former four-star general who took over the helm of the VA in 2009 has refused.
“We don’t need the VA to find a scapegoat; we need an actual plan to restore a culture of accountability throughout the VA,” Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement to Business Insider. “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.”
“Characterising this as a ‘resignation’ just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said in a statement to Stripes. “The VA has resorted to what it does best: splitting semantic hairs to create the illusion of accountability and progress. After yesterday’s out-of-touch performance from Sec. Shinseki, I was disappointed. Today, I am even more disillusioned.”
The American Legion also responded to the resignation, calling it a “continuation of business as usual.”
“Dr. Petzel was already scheduled to retire this year, so his resignation now really won’t make that much of a difference,” Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger said in a statement. “Meanwhile, Secretary Shinseki and Under Secretary Hickey remain on the job. They are both part of VA’s leadership problem, and we want them to resign as soon as possible. This isn’t personal. VA needs a fundamental shift in leadership if it is to defeat its systemic lack of accountability.”
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