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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Swearing-in Ceremony of the Honorable Robert Petzel, Under Secretary for Health
Washington, DC
April 23, 2010

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome. I am honored to officiate at today’s swearing-in of Dr. Randy Petzel as Under Secretary for Health. Today’s a great day for VA, for the Petzel family, and it is also a great day for Veterans. In Dr. Randy Petzel, we have found the ideal leader for this very important position, at this very important time, in this very important department.

Our arrival here today was not a simple process. There were originally 188 applicants for this position. There were a couple who applied thinking that the Under Secretary for Health was a clerical position—no kidding—but other than those, all the others were strong, fully qualified competitors. Twelve made it through a deliberate screening process and entered final interviews with the 16-member selection commission. Each candidate interviewed four times with every member of the commission composed of Veterans’ advocates and leaders in the medical field. Needless to say, it was a rigorous process.
I explained to the commission that we were looking for a truly unique person to lead and manage VHA—a competent healthcare professional with exceptional medical knowledge, someone who understands quality control in patient care, and someone who cares deeply about people.

We needed a leader committed to excellence, capable of leading transformation in a large organization, with the skill sets to manage what that would entail. And we needed a person with great business acumen and experience, capable of managing significant budgets.
In short, we needed a pro, in every sense of the word, to show up. And he did. Dr. Randy Petzel was one of the final four recommended by the commission. What you may not appreciate is that Bill Schoenard, our Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management, was also in that group of four, right next to Randy in the commission’s recommendation. And to Bill’s credit, when informed that he would not be the recommendation to serve as Under Secretary, he immediately offered to serve the new Under Secretary and VHA in any capacity we needed to make things better for Veterans. As I recall, he said that he had done everything that he needed to do professionally and wanted to put his years of experience in healthcare to work for Veterans. How about that as an example of Veterans’ advocacy?

The President’s nomination of Dr. Randy Petzel and his confirmation by the Senate has resulted in today’s ceremony. It has taken nearly 10 months. We are simply delighted and grateful in his selection.

Randy’s career is impressive. Graduating from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, he obtained his medical degree from Northwestern and did his residency in internal medicine at the University of Minnesota. Soon thereafter, he was asked to be the chief medical resident at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. He joined the VA staff there and quickly became known as someone who could visualize and implement change. By age 35, he was tapped to be the chief of staff of the medical center.

He was then appointed director of VISN 13, and when VISNs 13 and 14 merged in 2002 to become VHA’s Midwest Health Care Network, VISN 23, he became the director responsible for the leadership, budget, and planning of 8 medical centers and 42 community-based outpatient clinics—serving Veterans from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Western Illinois, and Western Wisconsin.

While at VISN 23, he led his staff with a clear vision of what they all needed to do. He reduced the variation in the type of medical care received across the network—standardizing care and raising quality. He maintained excellent relationships with the unions, the VSOs and with Congress. He also oversaw a large expansion of services to a very under-served population of American Indians within the region—50 percent of whom are Veterans.
The good people of VISN 23 helped make Dr. Petzel the leader that he is today, and I want to thank them for supporting him and for serving Veterans. Since coming to VHA, Dr. Petzel has already started to create a vision for what the administration will achieve in the future, to align elements of VHA to accomplish that vision, and to clear the trail that will lead to the objective. He is committed to reducing variations in the way we deliver care across the country and raising our standards at the same time.
I have asked Dr. Petzel to ensure that we increase access to care for our Veterans and improve the quality of healthcare at every VHA facility by increasing efficiency and controlling costs. I know that is a daunting task—managing the largest integrated healthcare network in the nation while leading it through transformation. But I also know Randy Petzel possesses all the skills, knowledge and attributes to succeed in that mission.

I am privileged to count him as one of our senior leaders. And I am equally proud that, today, we officially add his name to the list of distinguished Americans who have served as Under Secretary for Health and chief medical officer.
No one achieves the kinds of accomplishments that Randy has alone. His partner through the good days and the hard days, an extremely accomplished professional in her own right, has enabled his success every step of the way. Sue, thank you for sharing Randy’s immense talents and energies with us. I feel very fortunate to have him at the helm of VHA, and the nation’s Veterans will benefit enormously from his leadership.

Let me congratulate you, Randy, as you officially assume your duties as Under Secretary for Health. Let’s swear you in and make this official.