This story has been updated.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said Friday afternoon that he had accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, the department’s undersecretary for health, amid a growing scandal over the deaths of patients awaiting treatment at VA facilities.
Petzel, who has worked for the VA for four decades, is at the center of a patient scheduling debacle alleged to have played a role in the deaths of 40 or more veterans at the Phoenix VA hospital.
“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 in a statement. “I am committed to strengthening veterans’ trust and confidence in their VA health care system.”
Petzel’s resignation followed a grueling three-hour Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing Thursday, where he sat mostly mute next to Shinseki, who said he was “mad as hell” over the patient scheduling scandal and vowed to fix the problem.
But in a statement Friday, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, called the announcement of Petzel's resignation "the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak." Petzel had already said he planned to retire this year, Miller noted, and President Obama has already announced his intention to name a replacement. "Characterizing this as a ‘resignation’ just doesn’t pass the smell test," Miller said.
Earlier this month the American Legion, the largest veterans organization in the country, demanded that Shinseki resign. He told the hearing Thursday that he intended to continue working until he meets his goal of improving care or is “told by my commander in chief that my time has been served."