The acting head of the Veterans Benefits Administration announced his retirement Thursday, giving the department its third top benefits official in the last eight months.
Danny Pummill, who took over the post last October, said in a letter to VBA employees that he had planned to retire from his deputy post in 2015 but remained on the job after being asked to oversee the agency. The retired Army colonel has worked at VA since 2010.
The job of overseeing $90 billion in veterans benefits and dozens of regional offices nationwide now falls to acting principal deputy undersecretary Tom Murphy, who has been serving in that role since Pummill’s promotion last fall.
Pummill was suspended for two weeks in March for “lack of oversight” in a relocation scandal involving two other high-ranking VA administrators, a reprimand that irritated some lawmakers who wanted harsher punishment for what appeared to be unwarranted promotions for longtime bureaucrats.
But Pummill defended the promotions before Congress and accepted his suspension in an effort to move beyond the months-long controversy. He made no mention of the incident in his farewell note.
“In my time at VBA, I’ve been impressed over and over again by your dedication to do whatever it takes to complete the mission,” he wrote to employees. “Thank you for your consistent hard work to provide the best possible service to our veterans.”
In a recent blog post on the VA website, Pummill touted VBA’s transition from paper records to electronic claims in recent years, a move that helped reduce the department’s first-time disability claims backlog by almost 90 percent.
The agency has also made a push for benefits appeals reform in recent months, but lawmakers have yet to take action on that plan.
Murphy will also serve as acting undersecretary for benefits. The next president will have an opportunity to replace him or offer his nomination as a permanent replacement after the November elections.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.