VA Seal

By Phil Stewart and David Alexander
WASHINGTON Fri May 16, 2014 6:08pm EDT

(Reuters) – The top health official at the Department of Veterans Affairs resigned on Friday amid a scandal over allegations of deadly healthcare delays, but critics dismissed the gesture as “damage control” because he planned to retire this year anyway.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement he accepted the resignation of Dr. Robert Petzel, VA undersecretary for health, and acknowledged the need to ensure more timely treatment of America’s military veterans. The White House said President Barack Obama supported Shinseki’s decision.

Petzel’s resignation, which came a day after he and Shinseki testified before Congress, appeared unlikely to calm the anger over the scandal, with one critic rejecting the move as “damage control” and the American Legion renewing its call for Shinseki himself to step down.

“Characterizing this as a ‘resignation’ just doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Republican Congressman Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Tom Tarantino, the policy chief for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said: “We don’t need the VA to find a scapegoat. We need an actual plan to restore a culture of accountability throughout the VA.”

American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger said the resignation “is not a corrective action but a continuation of business as usual,” adding the organization wanted Shinseki and Allison Hickey, the undersecretary for benefits, to resign.

“Dr. Petzel was already scheduled to retire this year so his resignation now won’t really make that much of a difference,” Dellinger added. “VA needs a fundamental shift in leadership if it is to defeat its systemic lack of accountability.”

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