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Top VA Benefits Official Steps Down Two Years After Legislators Call For Resignation

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

Top Department of Veterans Affairs benefits official Allison Hickey resigned Friday, two years after calls began for her to step down from leadership.

GOP Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called for Hickey’s resignation in March 2013, citing an explosion in the number of disability claims languishing in the backlog. At the time, the total number of backlogged claims amounted to 600,000. In 2014, the American Legion started circulating a petition to dismiss her. Up until her resignation, Hickey was one of the last officials left during former secretary Eric Shinseki’s tenure.

Despite benefits delays, what appears to have finally prompted the sudden resignation is a potential investigation into Hickey’s involvement in the recent abuse of relocation bonuses by VA employees. The report found that VA officials Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves pressured subordinates to transfer out of positions, so that Rubens and Graves could places themselves in those positions and receive generous relocation payments.

Rubens and Graves received $403,000 in total. The scandal has angered legislators enough for Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal to demand that the Department of Justice launch an investigation into the scheme. (RELATED: Top Veterans’ Democrat Wants DOJ To Investigate VA Execs)

An inspector general report in late September recommended further examination into Hickey’s role to determine whether negligence took place. HVAC had scheduled a hearing on the issue for Wednesday.

Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth said in a statement that Hickey’s resignation is “long overdue” and downplayed reports of a dramatic drop in the number of disability claims in the backlog.

“Her most recent ‘accomplishment’ was transferring hundreds of thousands of veterans from the claims backlog to the hidden backlog of the appeals process, where veterans languish for years waiting for their benefits, and then claiming ‘victory’ on reducing the backlog,” Hegseth said.

“Nothing will change at the VBA, or the VHA for that matter, without system-wide reform. Despite Sec. McDonald’s claims, veterans are less interested in having WiFi at their local facility than in actually being able to take advantage of their benefits and receive timely health care,” Hegseth added.

Hickey’s resignation took effect Monday—just two days before the HVAC hearing scheduled for Wednesday on relocation payments. Danny Pummill, principal deputy under secretary, will take her place.

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