VA Benefits Director Allison Hickey resigns

Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits at the Veterans Affairs Department, is resigning.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement he accepted her resignation “with regret” Friday morning.

Hickey has been with the department as undersecretary since 2011. McDonald said she led mrore than 20,000 employees during “one of the largest transformational efforts” during the Veterans Benefits Administration’s history. During her tenure, she updated the VBA’s processing system, which helped cut the disability claims backlog from a record high of 611,00 claims in March 2013 — to 75,136, McDonald said.

Accuracy in processing those claims has risen from 83 to 91 percent, Hickey said during an interview last month on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

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Hickey and her office have faced sharp criticism over the years.

A recent inspector general report links her to a case in which two senior officials misused their positions at the VBA to get nearly $400,000 in relocation expenses.

Last week, Senate VA Committee Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), along with other members of his committee, asked that Secretary McDonald hold the senior officials involved with the relocation scandal.

“The immediate challenge at VA is not just replacing one person but repairing a broken culture,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “The next VBA Undersecretary must demonstrate a commitment to changing the culture at VA.”

Widespread problems at regional offices in Baltimore, Philadelphia and other cities have also been a target for the department’s IG, including charges of abuse among top leaders and allegations that employees left bins of benefits claims unopened.

The department’s inspector general also said the VBA made more than $85 million in payments to veterans who didn’t have the proper evidence to prove they needed them.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said Hickey “was not cut out for the job.”

“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 in a statement. “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.”