WASHINGTON (AP) — Two top Department of Veterans Affairs officials are stepping down, the beleaguered agency announced Wednesday as it continued reeling from complaints that thousands of veterans have endured long waits for appointments and poor medical care.
The agency said in a written statement that Will A. Gunn is resigning as general counsel. Also leaving a top post is Dr. Robert L. Jesse, who has been acting undersecretary for health.
The statement said the changes were "aimed at accelerating veterans' access to quality health care and rebuilding the trust of America's veterans."
Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson made the moves less than a month after he replaced Eric Shinseki as head of the agency. Shinseki resigned May 30 after apologizing for the agency's problems.
"What Gibson is trying to do is bring people in who he thinks will be as responsive as possible," said Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Jesse has been acting undersecretary for health since May 16, when Robert Petzel resigned under pressure months before he was set to retire. He was principal deputy undersecretary for health since 2010, and has a medical degree and a Ph.D. in biophysics.
Gunn, a retired Air Force colonel and military lawyer, has been VA general counsel since May 2009.
For weeks, the VA has been under scrutiny of investigations and congressional hearings.
Just this week, the Office of Special Counsel — an independent investigative agency — found "a troubling pattern of deficient patient care" that it said VA officials were aware of but downplayed. That included canceled appointments with no follow up, contaminated drinking water and improper handling of surgical equipment.
Investigators have also said many patients faced long waits for treatment, including some who died while on waiting lists. And they said that some officials created fictitious appointment lists to cover up lengthy delays.
The VA said Dr. Carolyn Clancy will become its interim undersecretary for health. Clancy has been at VA since last August, serving as an assistant deputy undersecretary for health.
"Dr. Clancy will be charged with the department's top priority — getting veterans off of wait lists and in to see their doctors," Gibson said.
He said Clancy will also lead the search for "immediate national reforms to accelerate access to care and restore trust among our veterans."
Tammy Kennedy, VA's principal deputy general counsel, will be acting general counsel after Gunn's July 3 departure.