The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 17, 2014

Obama and Congress move to address VA firestorm

(Continued)

A VA nurse in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was put on leave for allegedly telling employees to falsify appointment records. A VA investigation in December found that staffers at a Fort Collins, Colorado, clinic were trained to make it appear as if veterans got appointments within 14 days, as VA guidelines suggest.

Problems also have been reported in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Missouri, Texas, Florida and others.

Amid a growing outcry, the administration and Congress took steps to reassure the public that problems are being addressed.

Robert Petzel, the VA's undersecretary for health care, had been scheduled to retire this year but instead stepped down Friday. Petzel had said he would remain until the Senate confirmed a replacement, but a department official said Shinseki asked Petzel to leave immediately.

Republicans denounced the move as a hollow gesture. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, called the announcement "the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak." Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Shinseki's "reticence to hold fellow bureaucrats at the VA accountable is exactly why we need new leadership that is willing to take swift action to ensure we are living up to our promises to our nation's heroes."

Cornyn is among a handful of Republicans who have called for Shinseki to resign. The American Legion, one of the nation's largest veterans groups, also has called for Shinseki's resignation and called Petzel's departure "a continuation of business as usual."

The White House said President Barack Obama supports Shinseki's decision to remove Petzel and that Obama is "committed to doing all we can to ensure our veterans have access to timely, quality health care."

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

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