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 said he accepted the resignation of Robert Petzel, the department’s undersecretary for health care. Shinseki 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 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 and thanks Petzel for his service.
The announcement came a day after Shinseki 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.