Veterans Affairs leaders are relaunching their search for the department’s top health official after problems surfaced with the previous commission assigned to review candidates for the job.

The department has been without a Senate-confirmed head of the Veterans Health Administration since the start of 2017, despite attempts by the past two presidential administrations to fill the post.

On Monday, VA officials announced they have established a new commission to identify and interview candidates for the next head of the Veterans Health Administration. It’s the second time this year the commission has been stood up, and the fifth time since spring 2017 that the panel has been authorized in an attempt to find suitable candidates.

Veterans Affairs press secretary Terrence Hayes in a statement said the new commission was being established after officials “received information that there may have been some irregularities in the consideration of the previous slate of candidates.” He did not offer specifics on what those issues were.

In July, the acting head of the Veterans Health Administration — Dr. Richard Stone — stepped down from that post after the previous hiring commission informed him he was no longer being considered for the permanent job.

Stone had led VA’s health operations through the coronavirus pandemic to that point, and was considered by many to be the top candidate for the nomination.

His departure sparked speculation that a nominee would be announced sometime in the summer, but that never happened. VA officials did not publicly release the names of any candidates under consideration for the post.

Acting Under Secretary for Health Steven Lieberman has been overseeing VHA in recent months, since Stone’s departure. The position hasn’t been filled with a confirmed under secretary since David Shulkin stepped down from the post in January 2017, as he was being vetted for the VA Secretary post.

In press conferences, VA Secretary Denis McDonough has repeatedly downplayed the lack of a permanent VHA leader, saying he has confidence that the staff on hand can effectively handle the responsibilities of the office.

VA’s Under Secretary for Health oversees the country’s largest health care system, providing care for more than 9 million enrolled veterans and employing more than 306,000 full-time health care workers.

Department officials could not say when the commission’s work may be completed. Even after a potential candidate is nominated, it could take months before the Senate confirms the individual.

VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy was nominated for his post in April but waited nearly three months for a final vote from the chamber.

White House officials also have yet to announce a pick for VA’s under secretary of benefits, another key leadership post that has been vacant since the start of the year.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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