Donald Remy, deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs, speaks to reporters Aug. 17, 2022, at Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center in Honolulu.

Donald Remy, deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs, speaks to reporters Aug. 17, 2022, at Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center in Honolulu. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The No. 2 official at the Department of Veterans Affairs will step down on April 1, he told colleagues in an email on Wednesday.

Since July 2021, Deputy Secretary Donald Remy has overseen the VA's rocky rollout of a new electronic health record system that was first launched in Spokane, Wash., in 2020. As the department's chief operating officer, his other responsibilities have included adapting VA care to the COVID-19 pandemic and implementing a law Congress passed in 2022 that expands benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic hazards.

The VA confirmed Remy's departure in a news release after The Spokesman-Review obtained the internal email, in which the deputy secretary, a retired Army captain, thanked his fellow VA employees for their "unwavering dedication to fighting like hell for those we serve: people like my dad, my brother, and me."

"As I said when I was sworn in, there is no greater mission than ours at the Department of Veterans Affairs," Remy wrote, "and I couldn't be more proud of all that we have accomplished together for Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors."

Remy took office soon after VA Secretary Denis McDonough postponed the deployment of the computer system, developed by Oracle Cerner under a $10 billion contract, due to reports of widespread problems at Spokane's Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center and its affiliated clinics across the Inland Northwest.

As the top VA official charged with overseeing the high-stakes project, Remy assured a congressional panel in November 2021, "The Cerner system works." The following July, the VA Office of Inspector General revealed that Remy had been informed prior to that hearing that the system had delayed care and harmed scores of veterans, a fact he did not mention to lawmakers.

"I am confident that VA is on the path to delivering a modern electronic health record that is useable, reliable, and enhances Veteran outcomes," Remy wrote in his message. "I will be celebrating you as you make these goals a reality for VA and for those we serve."

The news of the deputy secretary's departure comes less than a week after the executive in charge of the system's rollout, Terry Adirim, left the VA after roughly a year on the job. In congressional testimony on Tuesday, VA Inspector General Michael Missal said "frequent turnover in key positions" has deprived the VA of "stable leadership that fosters responsibility."

In a statement, McDonough thanked Remy and said it had been "an honor to serve alongside him."

"Deputy Secretary Remy is a great leader, a true friend, and a steadfast public servant who has fought like hell every day for our nation's Veterans," McDonough said. "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."

Guy Kiyokawa, who currently serves as the VA's assistant secretary for enterprise integration, will take Remy's place as acting deputy secretary. In a statement, McDonough called Kiyokawa "a lifelong public servant and tireless advocate for his fellow Veterans."

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community.

(c)2023 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)

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