Seven-Month Search for New VA Health Care Leader Abandoned, Agency Starts Over

Veteran Affairs building near the White House in Washington.
Veteran Affairs building near the White House in Washington, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs abandoned its initial search for someone to lead its massive health care system and is starting the process over again, the agency announced.

The VA is establishing another commission to help choose a candidate for the role of undersecretary for health – a position that oversees hundreds of hospitals and clinics that comprise the largest health care system in the country. Whoever takes the job will be responsible for hundreds of thousands of employees and an annual budget of about $61 billion.

The VA, under the leadership of a new presidential administration, first established a commission in March to choose a candidate for the job. However, after seven months, the commission didn’t select anyone.

Department spokesman Randy Noller said Tuesday that the agency “received information that there may have been some irregularities in the consideration of the previous slate of candidates.” The VA did not provide specifics about the situation.

Out of an “abundance of caution,” the agency is restarting the search, he said.

The job is a presidentially appointed position, meaning the candidate must go through the Senate confirmation process. Once the commission nominates an appointee, the nomination goes to the Senate, where senators will conduct hearings and hold a vote.

The VA has been without a confirmed leader of the Veterans Health Administration for more than four years, since the position was held by David Shulkin. Shulkin left the position in February 2017 after he was nominated by then-President Donald Trump as the VA secretary.

Dr. Richard Stone served as the acting undersecretary for nearly three years and led the department’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Stone resigned in June, once it was clear that the initial commission charged with finding an undersecretary did not select him to stay in the role on a permanent basis.

The VA said Monday that candidates for the job must have “substantial experience” with VA health programs. The commission will also look at applicants’ experience in the medical profession and with formulating policies, as well as their work in health care administration and financial management.

“The candidates should have a demonstrated ability to conceptualize and implement a vision, while being an advocate who can move an ambitious agenda forward to meet the needs of veterans,” the VA said.

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