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VA Like A Ghost Ship Adrift At Sea

Many of the Department’s Top Leadership Positions Remain Unfilled

During the Department of Veterans Affairs’ biggest crisis since it was established as a Cabinet-level department in 1989, many of the top leadership positions at the agency remain vacant. The embattled VA is like a ghost ship adrift at sea in a hurricane.

On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously confirmed former Procter & Gamble chief Bob McDonald, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, as the agency’s next secretary. McDonald replaces acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson, who’s led the department since President Obama accepted the resignation of former VA chief Eric Shinseki in late May amid reports of falsified scheduling records and extensive treatment delays at VA medical centers.

Despite the guarded optimism that McDonald will lead VA into a new era that will be far more friendly to Veterans, more than half of the agency’s top leaders are gone, and others seem on the brink of being ousted. The scope of the exodus is enormous. In addition to the departure of several VHA, VISN and medical center directors, a number of top VA political appointees departed in the past couple of months.

Army Times reported that Dr. Robert Jesse, the acting VA undersecretary for health and the official in charge of heading the department’s response to the recent wait times scandals, will step aside from that role and his principal deputy post.

He’ll be replaced by assistant deputy undersecretary for health Dr. Carolyn Clancy. Jesse was working as a temporary replacement for Dr.  Robert Petzel, who resigned as undersecretary in May.

Others who are out and who have not been officially replaced include Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Steve Muro, Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs Joan Mooney, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Tommy Sowers, and General Counsel Will Gunn (acting will be Tammy Kennedy).

Meanwhile, holding on by a thread is Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey.

The following VA positions remain vacant, with the first three nominees stalled in the Senate:

• Assistant Secretary for Finance (Helen Tierney)

• Chairman of the Board of Veterans Appeals (Constance Tobias).

• Assistant Secretary for Policy (Linda Schwartz).

• Inspector General (no nominee).

• Assistant Secretary for Information Technology (no nominee).

Is it any wonder why there is so much unrest and uncertainty at VA with so many of these vitally important executive positions unfilled?

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