Biden Names New Acting VA Secretary, Some Permanent Staff

Dat Tran
Dat Tran has been serving as principal deputy assistant secretary for the VA Office of Enterprise Integration. (Photo: Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

Dat Tran, one of the Department of Veterans Affairs' top experts in strategic planning and information technology, has been named acting head of the department as Denis McDonough, President Joe Biden's nominee for VA secretary, waits for confirmation from the U.S. Senate.

Tran currently serves as principal deputy assistant secretary for the VA Office of Enterprise Integration, where he advises VA leaders on performance, policy research, data analytics and transportation.

In the early months of the Trump administration, he served as acting assistant secretary.

His official biography notes that he is a former staff member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a graduate of Ohio State University.

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Stepping in as acting deputy secretary is Dr. Carolyn Clancy, familiar to many within the VA for having served in a variety of roles, including as executive director of the Veterans Health Administration from 2017 to 2018. In that post, she essentially performed the duties of the under secretary for health, responsible for a budget of $70 billion.

In 2018, Clancy was replaced as executive director by Dr. Richard Stone, who will remain in his role, where he also serves as acting under secretary for health, according to the VA.

The top health care position -- undersecretary for health -- was vacant during the entire tenure of the Trump administration, with the role filled by acting leaders and the VHA executive directors, Clancy and Stone.

The last official under secretary for health, a position that requires Senate confirmation, was Dr. David Shulkin, who was promoted in 2017 to VA secretary, then removed from office just over a year later.

On the benefits side, Thomas Murphy will assume the role of acting under secretary for benefits, a position he held from 2016 to 2018.

Rounding out the three leadership positions of the VA's divisions is Ron Walters, who will serve as acting under secretary for memorial affairs. Walters previously served as principal under secretary for memorial affairs.

The Biden administration also named a number of other acting senior leaders in the department, including Richard Hipolit, who will serve as acting general counsel; Dominic Cussatt, who will step us as acting assistant chief information officer -- a critical billet as the VA continues its effort to modernize its electronic medical records system; and Hansel Cordeiro, who will serve as acting assistant secretary for accountability and whistleblower protection.

Cheryl Mason, chairwoman of the Board of Veterans Appeals, and VA Inspector General Michael Missal will remain in their positions.

Missal was an outspoken critic of VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, who stepped down with President Donald Trump’s departure. Missal publicly rebuked Wilkie after the secretary claimed that an investigation into an alleged sexual assault at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center found the charges were “unsubstantiated.”

“Reaching a decision to close the investigation with no criminal charges does not mean that the underlying allegation is unsubstantiated,” Missal wrote after Wilkie claimed they were in a letter to the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee last year.

McDonough, whose Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Jan. 27, is expected to build out his leadership team in the months following his swearing in as secretary. But several permanent roles, especially those in key outreach positions, also were announced Wednesday.

Kayla Williams, an Army veteran who previously directed the department's Center for Women Veterans, will serve as assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Meg Kabat, a licensed clinical social worker who has been active with the VA Caregiver Support Program, will serve as senior adviser for families and caregivers.

Raymond Kelly, the former majority staff director at the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, will work as the veteran service organization liaison.

Terrence Hayes, who previously handled media relations in the VA’s public affairs shop under Shulkin and Wilkie, will return as press secretary.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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