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Houston Regional Benefit Office

Meet Our Leadership Team

 

Pritz Navaratnasingam

Director: Pritz Navaratnasingam

Pritz Navaratnasingam was appointed Director of the Houston Regional Office (RO) in September 2010. He is responsible for administering VA benefits and services to nearly 800,000 Veterans, Servicemembers, their families and survivors in the RO’s service area.

Prior to his appointment, Mr. Navaratnasingam served as the Director of the Providence RO from September 2007 to September 2010. While there, Mr. Navaratnasingam led key VA business transformation initiatives, including establishing a Business Transformation Lab. Mr. Navaratnasingam also served in other key leadership positions, including as Veterans Service Center Manager at the Oakland RO and as Assistant Service Center Manager at the St. Petersburg RO.

Mr. Navaratnasingam began his VA career in 1994 as a Veterans Claims Examiner at the Los Angeles RO. In 2000, Mr. Navaratnasingam was selected as a staff consultant at VA Central Office in the Compensation and Pension Service, where he served until 2003. During this time, Mr. Navaratnasingam also worked in the Office of Policy and Programs.

Mr. Navaratnasingam is an alumnus of Leadership VA (2005). He completed training at the Federal Executive Institute in January 2008. Mr. Navaratnasingam is a graduate of the 2011 SES Candidate Development program.

Mr. Navaratnasingam graduated with honors from the University of California, Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology.


J. M. Hedge

Assistant Director: J. M. Hedge

J. M. Hedge was appointed to this position in November 2011. His role as the Assistant Director is to support the Director in administering a wide array of benefits and services to Veterans and their families living in the RO’s service area.

Prior to his appointment, Mr. Hedge served as the Chief, Support Services Division (SSD) at the Houston RO, where from September 2005 to November 2011 he managed the administrative/financial and support functions.

Mr. Hedge began his VA career in 1988 as Chief of the Labor-Management Relations Section at the Houston VA Medical Center. In February 2002, Mr. Hedge was selected to serve as one of VBA’s first Labor-Management Relations (LMR) Officers located in the field. Mr. Hedge served as the primary LMR instructor for Introduction to Leadership (ITL) and Division Leadership and Management Training (DLMT) at the VBA Training Academy in Baltimore for several years.

Mr. Hedge began his federal civilian career in 1989 with the Department of Justice (DOJ) Federal Bureau of Prisons, where he worked in a number of DOJ facilities across the nation and held progressively responsible positions such as Human Resources Manager, Assistant Human Resources Manager, and Human Resources Specialist. Mr. Hedge has 29 years of federal government service.

Mr. Hedge served on active duty in the U.S. Army for seven years, where he achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant, E-6. He is a service-disabled Veteran and a member of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).


Wendy L. Torres

Assistant Director: Wendy L. Torres

Wendy Torres was appointed to this position in October 2012. She supports the Director in administering VA benefits and services to Veterans and their families living in the RO’s service areas.

Prior to her appointment, Ms. Torres served as an Assistant Director at the Los Angeles RO and held various leadership positions within the Home Loan Guaranty division at the St. Petersburg, Roanoke, and Houston ROs, where she managed regional loan center operations. She joined VA in 1998 and has held numerous positions throughout her career.

Ms. Torres is an Air Force Veteran.


Kelly Shupak

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Officer: Kelly Shupak

Kelly Shupak has served in this position since December 2010. She is an Officer of one of the largest VR&E divisions in the nation. From 2006 to 2010, she served as the Houston Assistant VR&E Officer. She was also Wichita Acting VR&E Officer for a five-week detail in 2009.

Ms. Shupak began her VA career in 1998 as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at the Houston RO. She is a graduate of three Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) leadership programs—Leadership Coaching 2012, Leadership Enhancement and Development (LEAD) 2006, and VR&E’s 2005 Managerial Enhancement Program (MEP). She has also completed numerous VBA Training Academy’s leadership development training programs, including Instructor Developmental Training (2000), Introduction to Leadership (2007), and Division Level Management Training (DLMT, 2009).

She has served on VA national workgroups, committees, and special assignments, including VR&E’s Workload Management TPSS pilot testing (2013), VR&E’s Fiscal Workgroup (2008–2009), Central Area’s interview panel for the LEAD 2008 class, and VR&E Vet Success’s National Acquisition Strategy (NAS) technical evaluation team (2007), 1st Session Quality Assurance Review Board (2010). She also served as an evaluator and trainer for VR&E MEP 2010 class.

She chaired the Houston RO’s Diversity Advisory and Awareness Committee (DAAC) from 2006 to 2008 and is currently serving as a mentor and trainer for its Success through Enhanced Preparation (STEP).

Ms. Shupak is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. While attending Stephen F. Austin State University, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation and a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling.


John Heil

Home Loan Guaranty Officer: John Heil

John Heil took this position in March 2009. He oversees lenders, servicers, fee appraisers, and other stakeholders to make sure they comply with federal regulations, applicable laws, and VA guidelines. He also oversees the 111 employees serving the 2.7 million Veterans, Servicemembers, their families and survivors in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Mr. Heil is Gulf War Veteran. In 1991, he joined VA to work as a Veterans Claims Examiner before transferring to Home Loan Guaranty and serving as Loan Service Representative, Loan Specialist, Senior Loan Specialist, Assistant Valuation Officer, and Assistant Loan Production Officer in Atlanta, Nashville, Central Office, and St. Petersburg, respectively, from 1993 to 2006. In 2006, he was Assistant Loan Guaranty Officer for the Roanoke RO.

He served in the Air National Guard, Army National Guard, and Army Reserves from 1986 to 2009. During that time, he was called to active duty and served three wartime tours in the Middle East. He retired as a Major from the Army Reserve on Aug. 25, 2009. For his service, he was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal and Bronze Star Medal for exceptional meritorious service performed in a combat theater. He is a graduate of the University of Georgia, where he received degrees in History and Military Science.


Emile Dufrene

Veterans Service Center Manager: Emile Dufrene

Emile Dufrene was appointed as Veterans Service Center Manager of the Houston VA Regional Office (RO) effective January 2011.  In his role as Veterans Service Center Manager of the Houston RO, Mr. Dufrene is responsible for administering a wide array of benefits in the areas of Compensation and Pension to nearly 800,000 Veterans and their families living in 90 southern counties in Texas, in addition to Veterans residing in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.  In January of 2013, Mr. Dufrene was appointed to the 8 member Veterans Service Center Manager Advisory Committee.  This committee serves as an advisory body to the Compensation Service Director and represents all Veterans Service Centers.

During his tenure as the Veterans Service Center Manager of the Houston RO, Mr. Dufrene has actively supported VBA Transformation initiatives and visited multiple offices as a “Change Champion” to assist with their transformation.  During FY12, the Houston RO was selected to develop and test a new claims processing model, based on claim segmentation and to write the procedures for the nation.  Also, the Houston RO was selected as the pilot site to test recommendations from the Appeals Design Team to help streamline and improve appeals processing.  Mr. Dufrene was also on the National Design team to reconstruct the performance standards for the Rating Veterans Service Representatives. 

Prior to his appointment as Veterans Service Center Manager of the Houston VA Regional Office, Mr. Dufrene served as the Assistant Veterans Service Center Manager of the New Orleans VA Regional Office from August 2007 to January 2011. 

Mr. Dufrene began his career with the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1991 as a Veterans Claims Examiner at the New Orleans VA Regional Office. Mr. Dufrene has held various positions in the Veterans Service Center, including a Senior Authorizer, Rating Specialist and first-line supervisor for 9 plus years in multiple claims processing models.  Mr. Dufrene is an alumnus of Leadership VA (2008).

Mr. Dufrene was born in New Orleans, LA.  He was raised in Southeastern Louisiana and graduated from the University of New Orleans with a B.S. Degree in Finance and a Masters in Business Administration.  Mr. Dufrene resides in The Woodlands, TX with his wife, Carolyn, and their three children, Gabrielle, Collin and Anderson.  In his spare time Mr. Dufrene enjoys spending time with this family, attending and viewing Houston and LSU sports, grilling, reading and exercising.