The benefits administration also came under fire this year when it was late issuing payments to colleges and students under the new G.I. Bill. In response, Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, ordered offices to open on a Saturday to make emergency payments to students.
In announcing Mr. Dunne’s resignation, Mr. Shinseki said: “Pat Dunne has guided the Veterans Benefits Administration through a number of challenges during his tenure as under secretary. I applaud his service and loyalty to our team and thank him for his unfailing commitment to our nation’s veterans.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Shinseki, Katie Roberts, denied suggestions by veterans’ advocates that Mr. Dunne, a retired Navy rear admiral, had been forced out. “He served the department well,” Ms. Roberts said.
Veterans’ advocates say the benefits administration has been slow to modernize. Revamping the department’s outdated computer technology, along with reducing the claims backlog, is one of Mr. Shinseki’s top priorities.
“Veterans wait an average of six months for an initial answer on a disability claim and another four to five years while they wait for appeals,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense.
Mr. Sullivan’s group estimates that the backlog is close to one million claims, though the department says a more accurate measure places it at closer to half a million.
The benefits administration has separate headquarters from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Mr. Sullivan said Mr. Shinseki should require the new under secretary to have offices under the same roof so they can work more closely.
“They need a battle plan to overhaul the V.B.A. and bring them out of 19th-century paper processes,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Ms. Roberts, the secretary’s spokeswoman, said a commission would be assigned the task of recommending a list of potential successors to Mr. Dunne. The post requires Senate confirmation.