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VA's Top Lawyer Resigns

William Gunn

The top lawyer for the Department of Veterans Affairs has resigned effective July 3, the VA announced Wednesday afternoon.

The VA provided no details on General Counsel William Gunn's resignation beyond announcing that VA Secretary Sloan Gibson had accepted it and that Principal Deputy General Counsel Tammy Kennedy would serve as Acting General Counsel.

The VA has not responded to Military.com's request for comment.

Gunn's resignation comes as VA is under scrutiny from Congress and its own Office of the Inspector General over years-long, systemic manipulation of patient wait times for appointments.

Since a CNN report in April that the VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, maintained a secret list of backlogged patients – and that up to 40 died before getting care – the IG has been investigating 70 hospitals and clinics across the U.S.

The VA has confirmed that 35 veterans who were on the secret list died, but that number could go higher. The VA is sharing information with the Justice Department, which could seek criminal charges against officials and staff.

On Capitol Hill, the House Veterans Affairs Committee has grown frustrated with the VA, including its general counsel's office, for its failure to provide information and witnesses. In recent months the committee has gotten the VA to respond to requests by issuing subpoenas.

One committee source, speaking on background, said Gunn's response to a May 8 subpoena for documents "couldn't have been more clumsy and incompetent."

Gunn, in a May 27 response to the committee, said he was including all documents it was requesting, though testimony by another VA official revealed the absence of notes taken during a meeting with congressional staff.

"Perhaps that [May 27 response] has something to do with Gunn's abrupt departure," the source told Military.com.

Gunn's resignation announcement appears at the bottom of a press release detailing several appointments that, against the backdrop of multiple investigations, suggest a continuing shake up of VA leadership.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in May after VA investigators confirmed systemic problems with hospital officials and staff manipulating appointment schedules. Dr. Robert Petzel, Under Secretary of Health at VA, also resigned after Petzel gave a disastrous performance testifying before a Senate panel on the VA's ongoing woes.

Wednesday's announcement continues to show a VA in transition. Dr. Carolyn Clancy was appointed interim Under Secretary for Health to replace Dr. Robert Jesse, who had been made acting under secretary with Petzel's departure.

Clancy will be the lead person in the VA's efforts to speed up health care for veterans, the announcement said. Meanwhile, a commission is at work searching for a new permanent under secretary for health at the VA.

Gunn was named general counsel to the VA in 2009 by President Obama. Gunn was a career Air Force lawyer who, in 2003, was named the first chief defense counsel for Office of Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay. He retired in 2005.

Gunn was critical of how detainees were treated at the camps, and in a speech before the University of Virginia School of Law in 2007 he expressed regret that it took the revelations out of the Abu Ghraib prison to focus attention on Guantanamo.

"Our job was to provide these folks with an effective, zealous defense," Gunn told the law school audience. "I'm proud to say I was tasked with setting up the office, presenting the defense's point of view, and selecting the people to do this work."

Gunn was a graduate of the Air Force Academy and graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com

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