WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki announced Friday he had accepted the resignation of a top official but did not provide details on the aide’s connection to the 40 military retirees who died after being secretly wait-listed at a VA hospital.
Shinseki has ignored demands for his own resignation by key members of Congress including some from the Colorado delegation, and during testimony Thursday told a Senate panel he was “mad as Hell” over the scandal.
Shinseki said in a statement that he had accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, the heath undersecretary and a 40-year career employee, but did not elaborate on what role the official had in the secret wait-listing in Arizona.
Additionally, it was recently discovered that a VA official in Fort Collins was awarded a bonus for falsifying records.
However, key lawmakers questioned whether Petzel’s departure had anything to do with accountability or contrition, because the official’s retirement had already been announced.
“This is nothing more than an attempt to misinform, an attempt to make us think that serious change is taking place,” said Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman.
“Dr. Petzel had already planned to retire this year and this information was well known by the administration,” Coffman said. “In fact, President Obama already announced the intent to nominate Dr. Petzel’s replacement. So, why is the VA now calling the undersecretary’s planned retirement a ‘resignation?’ They think they will be able to use him as a scapegoat.”
Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called the announcement “the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak.”
Coffman and Colorado Republican Rep.Cory Gardner have demanded Shinseki’s resignation and say new leadership is essential for the agency in charge of the health care of 10 million veterans.
“I respect and value Secretary Shinseki’s brave service to our country, but as evidence continues to mount about gross mismanagement and preventable deaths of our nation’s veterans, it is time for the secretary to step down,” Gardner said. “These issues happened under his watch and he must bear the responsibility for failures within his department.”