VA Under Secretary Gone, St. Pete Claims Stacked in Boxes

A screen capture of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testifying before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

A screen capture of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testifying before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

This afternoon, Twitter was quick to pass along the news that VA Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Robert Petzel, resigned.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki released a statement that he had accepted Petzel’s resignation.

“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,” the statement reads. “I am committed to strengthening Veterans’ trust and confidence in their VA healthcare system.

“I thank Dr. Petzel for his four decades of service to Veterans.”

But Florida Congressman Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, released his own statement disputing that it’s a true resignation and pointing out that Dr. Petzel announced his retirement in September 2013.

“Today’s announcement from VA regarding Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel’s ‘resignation’ is the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak. Petzel was already scheduled to retire in 2014 and President Obama has already announced his intention to nominate Petzel’s replacement, so characterizing this as a ‘resignation’ just doesn’t pass the smell test. Desperate to get ahead of a delays in care crisis that is growing by the day, yet apparently unwilling to take substantive actions to hold any of its leaders accountable for negligence that harms veterans, VA has resorted to what it does best: splitting semantic hairs to create the illusion of accountability and progress. After yesterday’s out-of-touch performance from Sec. Shinseki, I was disappointed. Today, I am even more disillusioned.”  – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

On the Benefit Claims side,  the VA Office of the Inspector General released an executive summary Thursday evaluating the St. Petersburg regional office treatment of records.

After visiting in March 2014, VA investigators found a mess with more than 21,000 pending claims considered backlogged. Employees told the investigators that “lost and misfiled records in the file room  were a major issue.”

According to a memorandum in the executive summary dated April 11, 2014, “Due to the lack of space on permanent shelving unites; files were stored on end caps, on shelves built around the perimeter of the room, and in loose boxes stored against the outside walls of the room. As a result, RO (Regional Office) personnel have encourtered difficulties locating files and in moving banks of files in the permanent shelving unites due to the volume and weight of the files.

An Inspector General spokeswoman told the Tampa Tribune the office has 36,622 rating claims pending, of which 21,222 are considered backlog because they are pending more than 125 days.

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