American Legion Renews Call for VA's Hickey to Step Down

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)

The American Legion has renewed its call for Under Secretary of Veterans Benefits Allison Hickey to resign or be fired.

The Legion, which first sought her removal along with other department officials in connection with a wait-times scandal in 2014, said Hickey now should go because of her connection to officials who used coercion to assume the directorships of regional offices in Philadelphia and St. Paul, Minnesota.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C., is now weighing criminal charges against the two directors, Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves. Meanwhile, the VA's Inspector General's office has recommended that Hickey be disciplined for reportedly assisting one of the women in the job move.

"It's disturbing to read terms like 'criminal referrals' and 'coerced' in an official report about an agency that was created to serve veterans," American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett said on Tuesday. "It is time for Under Secretary Hickey to finally do the right thing and resign."

VA officials did not respond to Military.com's request for comment on the Legion's demand.

Following release of the IG's report, the department issued a statement saying it agreed with a number of recommendations the office made in connection with the latest scandal.

"As a result of their findings, VA leadership will conduct a 30-day review of all incentive and relocation procedures in the department," it stated. "In addition, VA will consider all the evidence presented by the IG, collect any additional evidence necessary, and take appropriate accountability actions."

The department will also fully cooperate with other federal agencies as required, the statement said.

Hickey refused to resign back in 2014, when she, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Veterans Health Administration Under Secretary Dr. Robert Petzel all came under fire from veterans and lawmakers amid the wait-time scandal that IG officials said contributed to the deaths of some veterans.

Hickey told Military.com in August that it never entered her mind to leave the job last year, notwithstanding the pressure that also was coming from Congress.

"You know why? Because I came here for this mission," she said. "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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