Brown, Crenshaw speak about Veterans Affairs issues

Top official for health care at VA resigns amid controversy

By Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter

ORANGE PARK, Fla. - From Arizona to Washington D.C., critics are calling for investigation and accountability at the nation's Veterans Affairs hospitals.

"Any allegation, any adverse incident like this ... makes me mad as hell," said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Shinseki accepted the resignation of Robert Petzel, the department's undersecretary for health care on Friday. Petzel had been scheduled to retire this year.

Shinseki had asked for the resignation, a department official later said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution.

In his position, Petzel oversaw what officials say is the largest health care delivery system in the U.S. The VA operates 1700 hospitals, clinics and other facilities around the country. They employ about 300,000 people and serve about 6.5 million veterans and other beneficiaries each year.

Specifically at issue is the time veterans spend waiting for treatment.

Members of Congress from Jacksonville stand on opposite sides of the Veterans Affairs controversy.

"I tell people all the time, the VA is a big ship, slow to turn," Rep. Corrine Brown said.

"But now, if we find out there's some wrongdoing, the people who have purposefully lied or covered up some of these long, long waits -- men and women have died because of this -- if that's the case, then heads should roll," Rep. Ander Crenshaw said.

Speaking before a Clay County Chamber of Commerce Military Appreciation Luncheon, Crenshaw called it unacceptable.

"I'm outraged, frankly, when you find out things like this," Crenshaw said. "It's bad enough you find out things go on in the federal government. But when people lose their life, if this is the case, because somebody's covered something up, somebody has manipulated numbers, somebody's cooked the books on how long you wait, and people suffered ultimate consequence of death?. How can you stand by and allow that to happen?"

Even if they haven't received poor service themselves from the VA, local veterans are also concerned and want the VA's feet held to the fire.

"Absolutely, because if they don't get this thing in check now, it's going to spread to other VAs," said Ernie Brown, who served in the Marines from 1955-1976. "So once they get their investigation and get their trouble spots corrected, they can continue to march. Right now, it's a mess."

Brown supports Shinseki and his leadership. She issued a statement the day Shinseski testified on Capitol Hill, then met with Channel 4 to explain why she doesn't believe the secretary should leave office, but she does support the investigation.

"Let's just say, they're doing a review," Brown said. "And I support that wholeheartedly, of all of the facilities."

"Whether here in Florida, all over the country, they're doing a top-down review," Brown said. "And after the review, then let's see what else we need to do to improve the system."

Brown's statement this week points to 85 million appointments at VA medical sites each year. She said that amounts to 236,000 appointments each day caring for the nation's veterans.

The VA admits the death of 23 people in nine states because of delayed care. Its report confirms many veterans were forced to wait too long for simple tests like colonoscopies.

Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.