VA benefits chief retiring; was suspended in relocation scam

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The acting head of the Veterans Benefits Administration said Thursday he is retiring, three months after he was suspended for allowing two officials to manipulate the agency's hiring system for their own gain.

Danny Pummill said in a note to employees that he will leave the Department of Veterans Affairs next Thursday. Pummill was suspended without pay for 15 days in March for his role in a relocation scam that has roiled the agency for more than a year.

The VA said Pummill failed to exercise proper oversight as two senior officials, Kimberly Graves and Diana Rubens, forced lower-ranking employees to accept job transfers and then took the vacant positions themselves -- keeping their senior-level salaries while reducing their responsibilities.

Pummill leads an agency with a $2.7 billion annual budget that provides disability and life insurance benefits to more than 10 million veterans.

He joined the VA in 2010 after a 33-year Army career, including two years as deputy assistant secretary of the Army for medical and health operations.

He took over as acting VBA chief last October after Allison Hickey resigned amid fierce criticism of the agency's problem-plagued disability benefits program. The number of claims pending for more than 125 days soared from about 180,000 at the start of 2010 to more than 611,000 by March 2013.

In a blog post this week, Pummill said the VBA has made significant improvements to the benefits program despite an unprecedented increase in demand. By the end of 2015, the backlog was reduced to about 75,000, he said.

VBA decided more than 6 million medical issues for veterans in 2015 -- double the number of medical decisions decided in 2009.

Pummill's top deputy, Tom Murphy, will replace him as acting VBA leader and VA undersecretary.