VA Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel Resigns

Robert Petzel, the Under Secretary for Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs, has resigned, according to a statement from the department.

Petzel led the health component of the national VA system, which is being investigated for allegations of falsified wait times at the nation's VA hospitals, including claims from one former doctor that the manipulated wait times resulted in the deaths of 40 veterans in Phoenix.

See also:
-VA Secretary: Preliminary Report on Wait Times Still Weeks Away

The statement released by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki doesn't say much:

"Today, I accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, Under Secretary for Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"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.

"I am committed to strengthening Veterans' trust and confidence in their VA healthcare system.

"I thank Dr. Petzel for his four decades of service to Veterans."
Petzel, a medical doctor, told a Senate committee late last month that the VA's own internal review, at that point, had not found any evidence of a "secret waiting list."

The next time that committee met, about two weeks later, several senators introduced claims or evidence of falsified wait times, and the existence of "secret" waiting lists, that make the wait times look a lot shorter than they actually are.

However, Shinseki insisted those were "a number of isolated cases," rather than a nationwide pattern.

Results from two ongoing reviews of the claims aren't expected for weeks.

At the latest hearing, where Petzel and Shinseki were questioned by the senators, Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina said he heard from a source that Petzel was on a conference call with Phoenix VA employees, explaining that VA director Sharon Helman was placed on leave during this investigation into the veterans' deaths.

Burr relayed that Petzel said the move was "political," and that Helman had done "nothing wrong."

You can read the VA's bio on Petzel below:
Robert A. Petzel, M.D., was appointed Under Secretary for Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Feb. 18, 2010. Prior to this appointment, Dr. Petzel had served as VA's Acting Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health since May 2009.

As Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Petzel oversees the health care needs of millions of Veterans enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the nation's largest integrated health care system. With a medical care budget of more than $54 billion, VHA employs over 277,000 staff members at more than 1,700 sites, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, domiciliaries, and Readjustment Counseling Centers. In addition, VHA is the nation's largest provider of graduate medical education and a major contributor to medical research. More than eight million Veterans are enrolled in VA's health care system, which is growing in the wake of its eligibility expansion. Last year, VA treated more than six million patients during 83 million outpatient visits and 703,500 inpatient admissions.

Previously, Dr. Petzel served as Network Director of the VA Midwest Health Care Network (VISN 23) based in Minneapolis. In that position, Dr. Petzel was responsible for the executive leadership, strategic planning and budget for eight medical centers and 42 community-based outpatient clinics, serving Veterans in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, western Illinois and western Wisconsin.

Dr. Petzel was appointed Director of Network 23 (which was formed from the merger of Networks 13 and 14) in October 2002. From October 1995 to September 2002, he served as the Director of Network 13. Prior to that, he served as Chief of Staff at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

Dr. Petzel graduated from St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., in 1965 and from Northwestern University Medical School in 1969 and is a former faculty member of the University of Minnesota Medical School. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine.

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Contact: Matthew Hendley