The acting head of the Veterans Health Administration announced his plans to step away from the post in mid-July amid speculation the White House is closing in on a nominee to fill the post permanently.
Dr. Richard Stone, who has served as executive in charge of VHA since 2018, made the announcement of his departure in a message to staff Thursday morning. He said the decision came after White House officials informed him he was no longer being considered for the permanent post.
“During my nearly three years leading VHA, as both executive in charge and acting under secretary, I have enjoyed extraordinary support from both secretaries I have served,” Stone said. “I am deeply saddened by this decision but am confident that the great employees of VHA will continue to serve America’s veterans with excellence.”
At least one death from the virus was reported by VA officials for 433 consecutive days.
In a separate statement, VA Secretary Denis McDonough praised Stone for his work at VA.
“We owe Dr. Stone an immense debt of gratitude for his leadership, especially during the pandemic,” he said. “When COVID-19 first began to spread, Dr. Stone was among the first people veterans and their families heard from, delivering a simple and urgent message: ‘We are going to be here [for you] just like we have been for the last 100 years.’
“Under Dr. Stone’s leadership, VHA’s excellent employees have done exactly that — vaccinating millions, saving lives and risking everything to serve those who served our country.”
Stone, who served as the Army’s deputy surgeon general and deputy commanding general for Army Medical Command, first served at VA as the second-ranking health official under David Shulkin in 2016. He left when Shulkin became VA secretary, but returned again in 2018 to serve as the temporary head of VA’s health operations under President Donald Trump.
That temporary job became a near permanent post. In the last seven years, Shulkin is the only Senate-confirmed nominee to lead the VHA, and his stint in the job lasted only 18 months before his promotion.
Stone has been rumored frequently as a nominee for the under secretary of health post, under President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.
The department has delayed or cancelled more than 19 million medical appointments over the last year, but hopes to reschedule them in the months ahead.
In March, VA leaders announced they had formed a commission to identify candidates for the job. Department officials did not provide a list of remaining candidates under consideration.
The Veterans Health Administration is the largest medical system in America, serving more than 9 million patients annually and boasting a budget of more than $60 billion.
Stone said in his statement to staff that he will “be seeking new opportunities to serve my fellow veterans, as I have done in service to the nation for nearly 30 years.”