WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs this week will welcome another new temporary head for its health operations, but still has no clear path ahead for a permanent appointee for the post.
On Tuesday, acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Peter O’Rourke said that Richard Stone will take over as executive in charge at the Veterans Health Administration this week, replacing Carolyn Clancy. Clancy will shift to a new post focused on “innovation, research and development” within VHA.
Stone previously served as VA’s second-ranking health official under David Shulkin when he worked as the under secretary for health, before his promotion to the top department job by President Donald Trump. For the last 16 months, Stone has worked as a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton assigned to military health issues.
He’ll be the third temporary administrator to oversee the VA bureaucracy’s sprawling medical operations since Shulkin left the post in February 2017. In that time, Congress passed sweeping new reforms to the department’s community care programs and White House officials began the process of modernizing millions of veterans electronic medical records.
Poonam Alaigh said in a letter to staff on Monday that she was stepping aside for family reasons.
The lack of a permanent, Senate-confirmed health chief amid that work has raised concerns among lawmakers and veterans groups in recent months.
But VA officials have downplayed the vacancy, insisting they are focused on finding the right person for the job and not simply filling it quickly.
O’Rouke did acknowledge turmoil among department leadership in recent months — since Shulkin was fired via Twitter in March, VA has had two acting secretaries and a permanent secretary nominee withdraw — but said he is confident that instability is coming to an end.
“We’ll have a full slate of candidates to consider (for the health post),” he said.
VA officials are planning to launch a new search commission in coming days to identify candidates for the permanent under secretary for health position. That will be the fourth time such a panel has been called upon in the last 17 months, with the previous three failing to find an appropriate replacement.
Stone is expected to be among the new set of candidates considered. He is an Army veteran who previously served as the service’s deputy surgeon general and the Deputy Commanding General of Support for Army Medical Command.
Meanwhile, Senate lawmakers are expected to vote later this month on the nomination of Robert Wilkie to take over as the next VA Secretary, pushing O’Rourke back into another department leadership role.