VA leader who led coronavirus response resigns
WASHINGTON — The top Department of Veterans Affairs health official who led its response efforts to the coronavirus pandemic has resigned and will step down in July.
Dr. Richard Stone, acting VA undersecretary of health, sent a memo to VA employees Thursday announcing his resignation. The White House established a commission in March to choose a permanent undersecretary of health. Stone learned he was not selected to stay in the role on a permanent basis, he said.
“I was recently informed that I will not be nominated for this position,” Stone said. “I am deeply saddened by this decision but am confident that the great employees of [the Veterans Health Administration] will continue to serve America’s veterans with excellence.”
Stone served as the top VA health official for nearly three years, taking charge of more than 300,000 employees and an $80 billion budget. He led the department’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and has spearheaded efforts to distribute vaccines.
Stone testified before Congress numerous times over the past year, updating lawmakers about the virus’ effects on veterans. Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees issued statements Thursday, complimenting Stone and crediting him for saving lives during the pandemic.
“Dr. Richard Stone led the nation’s largest integrated health care system through a global health crisis that killed nearly 600,000 Americans and crippled the U.S. economy,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. “His calm and steady resolve to save veteran lives, protect his workforce and lend a hand to the U.S. health care system in its time of need is a debt that this nation can never repay.”
Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said he was disappointed that Stone wasn’t chosen to stay in his position.
“Hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses and other staff across the country overcame tremendous obstacles under Dr. Stone’s direction over the last year and a half,” Bost said. “They are now gearing up for a surge in care while continuing to combat COVID-19. Now, more than ever, stable leadership is needed.”
In a statement Thursday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said he considered Stone a friend and planned to “lean on him and learn from him” until he departs the agency in mid-July.
Stone worked as the undersecretary for health in an acting role and was never subject to the confirmation process for presidential appointees. The VA has been without a permanent leader of the Veterans Health Administration for four years, since the position was held by former VA Secretary David Shulkin.
It remained unknown Monday who the White House chose for the role. Once selected, the commission will nominate the appointee and send the formal nomination to the Senate. The Senate will then hold hearings and decide on confirmation.