DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - One of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs' highest ranking executives is under fire
because of what he told a congressional subcommittee about a patient death scandal exposed by Channel 2 Action News.
We now know the Department of Veterans affairs disciplined seven Atlanta VA Medical Center employees following inspector general reports we exposed last April, which linked mismanagement at the hospital to three mental health patients’ deaths.
In an exclusive interview last summer, VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel told Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant, "Most important thing in Atlanta right now is, one, recognition of the issues, and two, the way forward."
In later congressional hearings Petzel expressed regret, but at a House VA subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C. last week Petzel told members, "Well, first of all the IG did not link any deaths to the activity at Atlanta. There were three mental health deaths, but the IG made no comment in their report on the quality of care that was delivered to them or the course of action."
But in the reports inspectors wrote, "We substantiated that staff's failure to 'watch' patients may have contributed to the subject patient's death ... Our review also confirmed that facility managers did not provide adequate staff, training, resources, support, or guidance for effective oversight of the contracted MH program."
Diamant asked VA’s undersecretary for public affairs, Tommy Sowers, if he could explain the discrepancy at a veterans outreach program Wednesday at Georgia Tech.
"I can't speak to Dr. Petzel's exact statements. I can speak to the broader system as a whole," Sowers said.
A system he described as imperfect.
"We do what we do in the military. We acknowledge those mistakes, we learn from them, and we fix them and we spread that knowledge across the nation," Sowers said.
We did ask VA Public Affairs to get us an explanation directly from Petzel, but so far there has been no response.