VA Official Resigns, Chillicothe VA Audited - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

VA Official Resigns, Chillicothe VA Audited

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - The nation's top official for the health care of veterans resigned Friday amid a firestorm over reported delays in care and falsified records at veterans hospitals.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said he has accepted the resignation of Robert Petzel, the department's undersecretary for health care, effective immediately. Shinseki had asked for the resignation, a department official later said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution.

Reports of long waits for appointments and processing benefit applications have plagued VA for years. The agency has shortened backlogs but allegations that veterans have died while awaiting VA care have created an election-year uproar.

A former clinic director at the VA's medical center in Phoenix told a House committee last month that up to 40 people may have died while awaiting appointments and that VA officials kept a secret appointment list to mask the delays.

Shinseki asked the VA's inspector general to investigate the clinic director's charges. An initial review of 17 people who died while awaiting appointments at the Phoenix hospital found that none of their deaths appeared to have been caused by delays in treatment, acting inspector general Richard Griffin told senators Thursday. But he also said new complaints about wait lists and falsified patient appointment had surfaced at other VA hospitals and clinics after the Phoenix allegations came to light. At least 10 new allegations about manipulated waiting times and other problems have surfaced in the past three weeks, he said.

The goal at the VA Medical Center in Chillicothe is to be able to see all new patients within 14 days. Director Wendy Hepker says that's not happening yet. "We have about 30 new veterans a week seeking care from us and right now most all of them are able to get an appointment within 30 days."

But Hepker says the current wait time is significantly better than it was in late 2012 when new patients were waiting 90 days or more for an appointment. She said high turnover including retirements were largely to blame.

Hepker says a audit team spent all day Wednesday at the Chillicothe Medical Center as part of the system-wide investigation. "What they found is that we meet the standard for keeping track of our wait times and that we have appropriate processes to oversee them and that we are reporting accurately when we are unable to meet the veterans requests for care," Hepker said.

The announcement of Petzel's resignation came a day after Shinseki and Petzel were grilled at a four-hour hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, where lawmakers and veteran groups expressed exasperation of long-standing problems at the department.

Meanwhile, House Republicans scheduled a vote for Wednesday on legislation that would give Shinseki more authority to fire or demote senior executives and administrators at the agency and its 152 medical centers.

When senior leaders in the VA "fail the men and women who have put their lives on the line for our country, they deserve a pink slip - not a bonus," House Speaker John Boehner said Friday.

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