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Surviving Resignation Calls, VA Official Says 'My Faith Kept Me Here'

Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey speaks to veterans and VA employees at a "Healthy Heart" event in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 27. KATE HOIT / DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS)
Veterans Affairs Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey speaks to veterans and VA employees at a "Healthy Heart" event in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 27. KATE HOIT / DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS)

Some 15 months ago, with the Veterans Affairs Department mired in scandal over secret waitlists for patients that were linked to deaths, lawmakers and at least one major veterans service organization demanded the resignations of the agency's top officials.

By mid-May of last year, Veterans Health Administration Under Secretary Dr. Robert Petzel was gone – his planned retirement pushed ahead of schedule when VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asked for his resignation. Not long after that Shinseki tendered his own resignation to President Obama.

That left only Veterans Benefits Administration Under Secretary Allison Hickey, who last week – still very much on the job – announced that the disability claims backlog had hit "an historic milestone" by dropping below 100,000 from a high of more than 600,000.

Resigning never entered her mind, she told Military.com in a separate interview later.

"No. And I say that very straightforward," she said. "I don't say it was easy."

Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican from Florida who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, was the first to call for Hickey's resignation in March 2014. By May, The American Legion, one of the largest veterans service organizations in the country, joined that call, noting that Shinseki and Petzel needed to go, as well.

Neither Miller nor The American Legion would comment for this story.

Hickey has been on the job since June 2011. Before then, she headed the Human Capital Management program at the consulting firm Accenture, focusing on the intelligence community and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.

For Hickey, the resignation calls came as she was preparing to announce that VA had reduced the backlog by about 50 percent.

"So, no, I didn't [resign]," she said. "You know why? Because I came here for this mission. I came here for the people this mission serves. I gave up a very lucrative job in industry.  I was happy where I was but this was a calling for me."

Unless it was someone "not of this world [who] told me I was done, I would keep going until I was done," she said. "My faith brought me here and my faith kept me here."

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

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