To Quell Scandal, VA Announces Forced Retirement of Official…Who Actually Announced his Planned Retirement 8 Months Ago

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Eric Shinseki and Robert Petzel (photo: Getty Images)

Under fire from veterans’ advocates and Republicans about medical delays at veterans hospitals, the Obama administration decided to offer up a political sacrifice … of an official who was already planning to step down.


Tensions have been mounting since allegations surfaced that hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have manipulated waiting lists to cover up the long delays experienced by many veterans to see a doctor.


Following the testimony last week of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki before Congress, in which both Republicans and Democrats aired complaints over the situation, the administration announced Dr. Robert Petzel, the VA’s under secretary for health, would step down.


The announcement implied that Petzel was to blame for the problems at VA hospitals, and that his leaving meant the administration was serious about fixing the mess.


But Petzel’s departure was announced last September when the VA issued a press release saying he would retire in 2014. In addition, President Barack Obama nominated Petzel’s replacement, Jeffrey A. Murawsky, more than a week before Petzel’s resignation.


At that time, Shinseki was quoted as saying he was “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.”


Fast forward to last week, when Shinseki said in the statement announcing Petzel’s resignation: “Most veterans are satisfied with the quality of their VA health care, but we must do more to improve timely access to that care.”


The bungled move gave GOP lawmakers ample reason to blast the administration.

Representative Jeff Miller (R-Florida), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, described Petzel’s departure as “the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak.”


“Characterizing this as a ‘resignation’ just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Miller said in a statement. He added that the VA was “splitting semantic hairs to create the illusion of accountability and progress.” A veterans’ rights organization, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, labeled the decision cynical and token, according to The New York Times.


“We don’t need the VA to find a scapegoat,” Tom Tarantino, the group’s chief policy officer, said. “We need an actual plan to restore a culture of accountability throughout the VA.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Veterans Secretary Ousts Health Care Official Amid Criticism (by Richard Oppel Jr., New York Times)

VA Convenes Commission to Identify Candidates for the Under Secretary for Health Position (Department of Veterans Affairs)

Robert Petzel (AllGov)


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