Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown will step down July 1 from the post he's held since the beginning of President Clinton's first term.
Brown, 53, oversaw the 776-facility VA healthcare system through a period of change that included efforts to involve the VA in comprehensive healthcare reform.
He didn't comment on his future plans.
Brown's tenure also has seen an ambitious effort to decentralize and restructure the sprawling VA healthcare system into 22 integrated delivery networks that behave more like private-sector managed-care plans.
Veterans groups credited Brown with being a strong advocate who was able to deliver extra appropriations to the VA healthcare system when its funding was in jeopardy.
That may not be the case, however, in the current effort to balance the budget, which would result in a cut in appropriations and increase the VA's reliance on private-insurance collections for future budget increases. That proposal could save $3 billion between 1998 and 2002.
Veterans groups also praised Brown for seeing the need for change in the VA healthcare system and choosing in Kenneth Kizer, M.D., the VA's undersecretary for health, an executive who would attempt to restructure the system.
"The biggest thing was bringing in Dr. Kizer and letting Dr. Kizer do what he's done," said Joe Violante, deputy national legislative director with Disabled American Veterans.
Brown served as head of the DAV before being appointed VA secretary.
Deputy VA Secretary Hershel Gober, a onetime Arkansas state veterans official, is a leading candidate to succeed Brown.