The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the official resignation of its undersecretary for health in what the administration hopes is seen as a sacrifice due to the growing VA hospital scandal. But the man nominated to fill that officer’s position is tied to the same scandal, having supervised one of the hospitals under fire.
On May 1, the Obama administration nominated Dr. Jeffrey Murawsky to replace Dr. Robert Petzel, the outgoing undersecretary of health at the Department of Veterans Affairs, who “resigned” suddenly on Friday.
But Murawsky is also tied to the very scandal that has led to Petzel’s resignation. Murawsky, ABC News reports, “is currently the network director–effectively the CEO–of the VA region that includes the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago. Before he moved up the VA hierarchy, he worked as a manager at the hospital.”
The Hines hospital, though, is figuring prominently in the growing scandal that has led to the deaths of an unknown number of military veterans who were waiting for medical care that never came before they died. Investigations are finding that the VA failed to schedule timely health care for thousands of ailing veterans, allegedly placing them on secret lists that saw wait times of perhaps up to four months. On top of the overly long wait times to receive healthcare services, several hospitals, including Hines, reportedly engaged in a cover-up of the failures so that administrators and doctors would continue to receive bonuses and benefit increases.
Many feel Petzel’s rather sudden departure is the first sacrifice over the growing scandal in the VA Department. Petzel had already been scheduled to retire sometime this year, but his departure was hastened this week.
On May 16, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki announced that Petzel was leaving immediately, but he failed to state exactly why.
Because he was already scheduled to retire this year, critics say that his sudden removal does nothing to ameliorate the developing scandal at the VA.
“Characterizing this as a ‘resignation’ just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Republican Congressman Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, told Reuters.
American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger also said that this departure does nothing to solve the crisis in the VA.
“Dr. Petzel was already scheduled to retire this year so his resignation now won’t really make that much of a difference,” Dellinger said. “VA needs a fundamental shift in leadership if it is to defeat its systemic lack of accountability.”
Even as news had been mounting of these secret wait lists, only two weeks ago, Petzel insisted in testimony before Congress that there were no such lists.
“To date, we found no evidence of a secret list and we have found no patients who have died because they’ve been on a wait list,” Petzel said at a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on April 30. “If the allegations are true, they’re absolutely unacceptable.”
Despite Petzel’s flat denial of the problem, it appears that the VA was told about this problem as far back as March of 2013.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.