VA undersecretary vague on details over accountability for Atlanta VA deaths

by: Aaron Diamant Updated:

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WASHINGTON - Since breaking the news of patient deaths inside the Atlanta VA Medical Center over gross mismanagement, powerful lawmakers have demanded answers for months and so has Channel 2 Action News.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant traveled to Washington, D.C., Tuesday and talked exclusively with the man who is essentially in charge of the medical care of every veteran in the country, Dr. Robert Petzel.

Lawmakers have made it clear they want people fired over the deaths.

But Petzel, Department of Veterans Affairs undersecretary for health, said he isn't focused on who's to blame for mismanagement by Atlanta VA Medical Center leaders -- which federal investigators linked to at least three mental-health patient deaths in scathing reports first exposed by Channel 2 Action News.

"Do you think people should be fired over these deaths?" Diamant asked Petzel.

"Most important thing in Atlanta right now is, one, recognition of the issues, and two, the way forward," Petzel answered.

Still, Diamant pressed Petzel for an answer minutes after a Washington, D.C., event showcasing new technology designed to give veterans better access to medical care.

"There are many ways to hold people accountable besides the loss of jobs, and believe me, we are holding the appropriate people accountable," Petzel said.

But Petzel was short on specifics, which Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson said he'll demand Petzel give at a rare Senate field hearing in Atlanta next week, sparked by our reporting.

"They're not going to be hiding," Isakson said.

Channel 2 Action News has already reported that two unnamed hospital workers have been reprimanded despite those three deaths.

"You will be asked that question at the field hearing in Atlanta. Your thoughts on the hearing and when that question will be posed to you. What do you say to the senators?" Diamant asked Petzel.

"We'll wait till the field hearing and see how this evolves, and I'm looking forward to it, actually," Petzel said.

Petzel will be back on the hot seat Aug. 7 when he'll headline that Senate hearing, chaired by Isakson, on the Georgia State University campus.

Petzel did say that over the last few months, the hospital's new director has hired more than 60 new clinical and administrative people.



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