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VA Gets Third New Benefits Chief in Less Than a Year

In this Nov. 2, 2015, file photo, VA Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits Danny Pummill testifies at a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Molly Riley/AP
In this Nov. 2, 2015, file photo, VA Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits Danny Pummill testifies at a Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Molly Riley/AP

The acting head of the Veterans Benefits Administration is retiring, leaving the position he has held since his predecessor left under a cloud in 2015.

Danny Pummill, a retired Army colonel who joined the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2010, had planned to retire in 2015 but stayed on as acting undersecretary of benefits after his predecessor resigned last October, VA said in a statement.

Allison Hickey called it quits after a long period of criticism from lawmakers and veterans organizations, most recently for allowing VA senior executives to move into jobs that they reportedly coerced others leave.

Pummill, the principal deputy undersecretary for benefits at the time, was suspended without pay for 15 days in March in connection with the same scandal.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson saidPummill failed to exercise proper oversight when Kimberly Graves and Diana Rubens forced lower-ranking managers to take job transfers and then took over the vacant positions themselves, even keeping their senior level pay though the jobs held less responsibility.

Yetthe demotions and job transfers handed to Graves and Rubens by the VA were overturned when they appealed the disciplinary actions to Merit System Protection Board.

In the VA statement released on Thursday, Pummill called his 33 years in the military and his time with the department and the Veterans Benefits Administration serving veterans "the greatest fulfillment of my life.

"In my time at VBA, I continued to be impressed by the dedication and selfless sacrifice of the employees in service to our nation's veterans," he said. "It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as their acting under secretary for benefits and it is with mixed emotions that I leave this great organization to begin the next phase of my life."

Thomas Murphy, who took over as principal deputy undersecretary for benefits last year when Pummill moved up to take over from Hickey, is now the acting undersecretary for benefits, the VA said.

Murphy previously was a director of compensation service at VBA. He joined the VA in 2009 as the director of the San Juan Puerto Rico Regional Office.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald called Pummill "the consummate veterans advocate" who had a hands-on approach to making sure veterans were central to department operations.

"I am saddened to see him go but deeply appreciate that he agreed to stay on and lead VBA as long as he did," McDonald said.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at@BryantJordan.

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