VA deputy secretary, leader on EHR rollout and customer experience, is stepping down

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ second-in-command is planning to step down after nearly two years on the job.

The VA announced Wednesday that Deputy VA Secretary Donald Remy is stepping down from his position on April 1. Guy Kiyokawa, VA’s assistant secretary for enterprise integration, will serve as the agency’s acting deputy secretary.

The VA said in a press release it’s working with the White House to nominate a candidate for the deputy secretary position “as soon as possible.”

Remy told staff in an email Wednesday “there is much work to be done” at the VA, including expanding veterans’ access to health care and benefits exposed to toxic burn pits during their military service under the PACT Act.

“As I said when I was sworn in, there is no greater mission than ours at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) — and I couldn’t be more proud of all that we have accomplished together for veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors,” Remy said in his email.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough, in a statement, said Remy was a “steadfast public servant who has fought like hell every day for our nation’s veterans.”

“He’s helped lead VA through the pandemic and to the point where we are delivering more care and more benefits to more veterans than ever before,” McDonough said.

Remy helped lead a governmentwide effort to improve customer experience. He also oversaw the VA’s rollout of its new, multi-billion-dollar Electronic Health Record (EHR) from Oracle-Cerner.

Remy is the second prominent EHR leader to leave the agency this year. Terry Adirim, the program executive director of the VA’s EHR Modernization Integration Office (EHRM IO) left the agency on Feb. 25.

The EHR is currently running at five VA sites, but its rollout has been delayed several times to address patient safety issues documented by the VA’s inspector general, as well as persistent system outages.

The VA, since October 2022, has been in an “assess and address” period, to address known issues with the EHR, and to determine whether it’s ready to launch at additional sites.

The agency also sent letters to 42,000 veterans who may have been impacted by problems with the EHR. The letter told veterans to reach out to the VA over the phone or online if they “experienced a delay in medications, appointments, referrals, or test results” at a facility using the Oracle-Cerner EHR.

The VA expects to resume EHR go-lives this June. Undersecretary for Health Shereef Elnahal told reporters last week the VA is close to releasing a revised execution plan for upcoming EHR go-lives.

Remy told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee in September 2022 that the VA won’t proceed with future EHR go-lives until it addresses persistent outages and patient safety concerns.

“Right now, the bottom line is that the Cerner system is not delivering for veterans in the ways that it should. Not even close. It needs major improvements,” Remy told the subcommittee on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies.

Remy told staff in his email he’s “confident that VA is on the path to delivering a modern electronic health record that is usable, reliable and enhances veteran outcomes.”

He also told VA staff he looks forward to the agency’s “continued work to equitably serve all veterans by eliminating any lingering disparities in our claims processing and care delivery systems.”

The VA is working on a study focused on racial disparities in its benefits claims decisions — an issue that spans decades, according to a federal lawsuit late last year.

A lawsuit filed last December with the U.S. District Court in Connecticut, and led by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Service Clinic, claims that between 2001 and 2020, the VA was more likely to reject the disability compensation claims of Black veterans than white veterans.

“The kind of data that we’ve been looking into is unacceptable, and it’s unacceptable to the President,” McDonough told reporters last December.

Among the VA’s accomplishments during his tenure, Remy touted “re-imagining the future of work at VA to remain competitive for needed talent and productive in our work.”

The VA under Remy’s leadership also reduce veteran homelessness, expanded telehealth services and provided care and COVID-19 vaccines to veterans since the start of the pandemic.

Remy also served as one of three interagency executives leading the Biden administration’s goal of improving customer experience across public-facing government services.

The White House named one of three CX priority area leaders under the President’s Management Agenda.

The administration directed the VA and Defense Department, among other agencies, to improve the transition out of active-duty military service as one of five cross-agency “life experiences” in President Joe Biden’s executive order on customer experience.

“We’re putting the American customer at the center of all of our decisions. We gather data, we gather information, we understand their needs and how we can meet those needs,” Remy said last December at an event marking the one-year anniversary of the PMA.

Remy also led efforts to improve employee satisfaction at the VA. During the PMA event, he said VA recently launched its first-ever employee trust survey. The VA already had a trust survey for veterans, and had metrics on employee engagement from the  governmentwide Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey

“Like we do with our veterans to understand their trust scores, we’re going to do the same thing with our employees and use the surveys, along with our annual [FEVS] survey, obviously, to gather what I hope will be very useful data and information to help us strengthen our workforce,” Remy said.

 

 

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