Out with the old, in with the new (acting) Veterans Affairs secretary

Department of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs Photo credit Getty Images
By Connecting Vets

A new president is in the Oval Office and that means a new Department of Veterans Affairs secretary. But before President Joe Biden's pick can receive approval from the Senate and be sworn in, the 46th president needed an acting VA secretary.

Less than two hours after Biden took the oath of office, his administration, like others before, announced a series of new acting VA leaders and political appointees to lead the second-largest federal department and the largest healthcare system in the country. Chief among those is the new acting Secretary Dat P. Tran, who previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary for enterprise integration at VA. Tran replaces outgoing VA Secretary (and Trump appointee) Robert Wilkie.

All major national veteran service organizations and many others called for Wilkie's resignation or removal in recent months after a damning watchdog report found he and senior staff sought to discredit a woman veteran who reported being sexually assaulted at the Washington, D.C. VA. Wilkie refused to step down and the White House made no public moves against him.

Tran will continue to serve in an acting capacity as leader of the VA until Biden's nominee, Denis McDonough, gets an official nod from the Senate. Tran has also served as deputy assistant secretary for data governance and analysis at VA, and has more than a decade of experience leading data analytics and statistics at the department, according to his biographical information on the VA website.

From 1995 to 2001, Tran was a staff member for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and before his government service, he was the manufacturing operations manager for Square D Electrical Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He's a graduate from The Ohio State University with a degree in Industrial Systems Engineering.

Joining Tran are several other VA officials stepping up in acting roles, including Dr. Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, who will serve as acting undersecretary for health at the department. In an email to VA staff Wednesday obtained by Connecting Vets, Stone said that he had been asked to continue in his role as VHA leader under the Biden administration.

"While we anticipate shifts in direction and policy over the coming weeks, our work continues, the pandemic continues and veterans continue to need care," Stone wrote. "I am glad to share that I will continue in my role under the new administration. I believe it is as true today as ever that VHA is critical to veteran health care and to the nation's COVID-19 response."

Thomas Murphy, previously the director of the northeast district of the Veterans Benefits Administration, will become acting undersecretary for benefits and Dr. Carolyn Clancy, previously assistant undersecretary for health, discovery, education and affiliate networks will serve as acting deputy secretary.

Tran and other acting senior leaders will perform the duties of department leadership until Biden administration appointees are confirmed and sworn in.

For a list of other VA officials and their acting roles, go to the VA website.

The Biden administration also announced on Wednesday a list of VA political appointees, many of whom are familiar faces at VA or in the veteran community.