Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits at the Veterans Affairs Department, has resigned, according to a statement from VA Secretary Bob McDonald.
Hickey, who has led the Veterans Benefits Administration since 2011, shepherded the department’s effort to shrink the massive disability claims backlog from a high of 611,000 claims in 2013 to 75,316 claims to date. McDonald said he accepted Hickey’s resignation “with regret,” calling her “an exceptional colleague” and “an even better friend.” She was also known in and out of the department as a strong advocate for women veterans.
But Hickey, an Air Force veteran, faced calls for her ouster during her tenure from members of Congress, including House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and veterans’ advocates. Frustrations with the claims process, as well as problems with training and mismanagement in some VBA regional offices, were constant headaches for Hickey.
On Friday, Miller released a statement praising Hickey for her military service and commitment to vets, but said she was "not cut out" for the job as VBA undersecretary. "Though VA statistics show the disability benefits backlog shrank on her watch, those figures must be taken with a healthy grain of salt in light of assertions from prominent veterans groups and even VA’s own inspector general that the department’s backlog numbers are not to be trusted," Miller said. "Right now, VBA needs a leader who will put veterans – not VA bureaucrats first – while working to end the backlog without sacrificing quality, accuracy or service to veterans. Unfortunately, Hickey was not that type of leader.”
Concerned Veterans for America CEO Pete Hegseth said Hickey's resignation was “long overdue, and is a necessary step in making a semblance of progress in improving the culture at the Department of Veterans Affairs."
A recent inspector general report found that VBA managers reassigned senior executives to get around a pay freeze, and also paid many of those executives unjustified relocation incentives. VBA spent a total of about $1.8 million on 23 reassignments from fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2015, the IG found. The House VA Committee is holding a hearing about the IG's findings next Wednesday.
Hickey’s resignation is effective Monday, according to a report in Military Times. Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Benefits Danny Pummill will be acting VBA undersecretary.