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Top VA Health Official Resigns Amid Scandal Over Treatment Delays

Posted: May 16, 2014

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The resignation of the department's undersecretary for health comes a day after he and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testified before Congress.

Veterans Affairs Undersecretary Robert Petzel testifies Thursday on Capitol Hill. Petzel tendered his resignation from the VA on Friday.

Veterans Affairs Undersecretary Robert Petzel testifies Thursday on Capitol Hill. Petzel tendered his resignation from the VA on Friday. Cliff Owen

This post was updated at 5:45 p.m. ET.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki says he has accepted the resignation of the department's undersecretary for health, a day after both men testified before Congress about a growing controversy over delays in treatment.

"Today, I accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, undersecretary for health in the Department of Veterans Affairs," Shinseki said in a statement cited by Reuters.

"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," Shinseki said.

But Petzel had already announced his retirement in September and the White House announced his replacement, Jeffrey A. Murawsky, on May 1.

"The President supports Secretary Shinseki's decision," Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. "As the President has said, America has a sacred trust with the men and women who have served our country in uniform and he is committed to doing all we can to ensure our veterans have access to timely, quality health care."

As undersecretary for health at the VA, Petzel oversaw the health needs of veterans under the department's care. Before coming to the undersecretary's post, he served as network director of the VA Midwest Health Care Network, based in Minneapolis, according to his official bio.

As we reported on Thursday, Shinseki told a Senate panel then that he was "mad as hell" about reports that delays in treatment of veterans at some hospitals may have led to as many as 40 deaths.

Shinseki had told the panel that he would not fire any of the department's senior leadership until an inspector general's report was finished in August.

But, as The Washington Post writes, Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat, had pressed Shinseki "to get rid of those who had been found untrustworthy through fraudulent statements or documents."

"Sometimes you've got to have some heads roll to get the system to shape up," Begich said.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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