Robert Petzel resigned last week as the top health official for the Department of Veterans Affairs, just one day after testifying before a Senate committee that he knew VA health clinics were using inappropriate scheduling practices as early as 2010.
Whistleblowers claim the schemes continued until this year, leading to a recent wave of outrage that sent the VA and White House scrambling to correct the alleged problems and restore confidence in the department.
Petzel admitted that he knew of the issue after Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) questioned him about the 2010 memo below, in which a top VA executive warned all VA health networks that questionable scheduling practices would “not be tolerated.”
The message summarized at least 17 tactics that VA hospitals were known to have used to hide treatment delays and give the impression they were meeting the department’s goal of seeing patients within 14 to 30 days.
Isakson asked during the hearing what the VA had done to ensure that its medical centers followed the memo.
Petzel responded: “We have worked very hard, Senator Isakson, to root out these inappropriate uses of the scheduling system and these abuses. We have been working continuously to try and identify where those sites are and what we need to do to prevent that from happening. It’s absolutely inexcusable.”
Isakson then asked what the VA did to reprimand employees who tried to hide delays.
Petzel could not recall a specific example, but he said that “if someone were found to be manipulating inappropriately the scheduling system, they would be disciplined.”
Shinseki added that the VA removed 6,000 employees over the last two years for either poor performance or misconduct, but he did not say whether those personnel actions were related to hiding treatment delays.
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