VA undersecretary resigns amid scandal over patient deaths

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WASHINGTON - The top official for veterans health care has resigned amid a firestorm over long appointment waits, treatment delays and falsified records at VA hospitals.

Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki says he has accepted the resignation of Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health care at the VA. It comes the day after both men were grilled by the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

“I am grateful for Dr. Petzel’s distinguished service to Veterans spanning four decades, and for his leadership in transforming VHA’s health care delivery system to better care for Veterans,” Shinseki says in a statement. “Dr. Petzel has assured me that he will continue to serve in his position until the Senate confirms a new Under Secretary for Health, in order to ensure a smooth transition.”

Whistle-blowers say there were efforts to cover up the deaths of up to 40 veterans while they were awaiting appointments at the department's giant medical center in Phoenix.

Shinseki says most vets are satisfied with the quality of care they get, but more must be done to "improve timely access to that care."

“I have appreciated the privilege to serve Veterans by developing a healthcare system that reaches beyond simple treatment of diseases to a true partnership with Veterans,” says Petzel.  “VA will continue to partner with Veteran patients throughout their lives in order to improve their health and well-being.”

Channel 2 Action News traveled to Washington, D.C., in July to talk to Petzel after an audit found gross mismanagement at the Atlanta VA Medical Center in DeKalb County that led to the deaths of at least three patients there.

Petzel headlined a rare Senate field hearing in Atlanta in August over the issues at the Atlanta VA hospital.

The hearing covered a lot of ground, asking questions about what went wrong, what's been done to fix the problems, and the best ways to reduce the risk of similar deaths down the road.

Petzel apologized to the families who lost loved ones at the Atlanta VA during that hearing.

"We expressed our regret of the incidents that have occurred at the VA Atlanta Medical Center and to those family members that have been affected," Petzel said.

Following a 40-year career serving Veterans as a VA physician, teacher, and administrator, Petzel was expected to retire in 2014 as planned, following a four-year tenure as undersecretary of health.



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