USA TODAY -- The second in command at the Department of Veterans Affairs resigned Friday amid the growing controversy over patient wait times and allegations of falsification of records.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced he had accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, the VA's undersecretary for health, just a day after Petzel had joined Shinseki in a contentious hearing before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Senators grilled Petzel, who has been with the VA for four decades, over the agency's perceived inaction in reducing the wait times for veterans seeking VA care.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., described a phone call that Petzel made to regional VA officials nationwide after the Phoenix VA director was placed on leave. Burr said he was told that Petzel called the removal "political, and she's done nothing wrong."
Whistle-blowers in Phoenix have alleged that as many as 40 veterans may have died while awaiting appointments for care through the Phoenix VA Health Care System. They also have claimed document fraud in reporting wait times at Phoenix facilities.
The disclosures in Phoenix created a wave of similar revelations at other VA facilities across the nation, putting Shinseki and his top administrators in the line of political fire. Senators said Thursday that they now have information on problems at VA facilities in at least 10 states — including Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming.
Shinseki's announcement didn't directly address the controversy but said, "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 the timely access to that care."
"I am committed to strengthening veterans trust and confidence in their VA healthcare system," he said, echoing his testimony Thursday.
Petzel had announced in September that he planned to retire in 2014.
The White House simultaneously announced the nomination of Dr. Jeffrey A. Murawsky to fill Petzel's post. Murawsky has been the network director of the Veterans Integrated Service Network since 2009.
Murawsky is also an associate professor of medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, according to a White House news release. Previously, he was chief medical officer for the Veterans Integrated Service Network from 2006 to 2009.
He also served as the associate manager for medicine and neurology services at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Hines, Ill., about 10 miles west of Chicago, and as the associate program director for internal medicine at the combined program with Loyola University Medical Center in nearby Maywood, Ill.