After more than two years at the helm of the Alaska VA Health Care System, director Susan Yeager has retired.
Dr. Linda Boyle, Alaska VA associate director of patient and nursing services, is serving as interim director as a national search for a new director continues. Samuel Hudson, Alaska VA spokesperson, said the application window, managed by the Washington, D.C., office, closed Friday.
Yeager, the outgoing director, was named as the head of the Alaska VA in March 2013. Before that, she served as the rural health program director for the Alaska VA.
"Her work and her accomplishments are a true testament to the goal of serving and honoring veterans, and she will be sorely missed," said a statement from Lawrence Carroll, VA Northwest Health Network director.
VA officials tapped Boyle as the interim director and she started in that position on Aug. 1, less than two weeks before a scheduled visit from VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the nation's top official for Veterans Affairs.
At a media event Wednesday, Boyle, who served for 25 years in the Air Force, said that she has juggled planning for McDonald's visit and an inspector general review at the Alaska VA that happens every three years.
Amid the change in leadership, Congress passed a bill that would allow the Alaska VA to move funding set aside for the Choice Program to already-established partnerships in the state -- the ones that allow veterans to get care outside of the VA at tribal and community health centers.
Alaska's congressional delegation and veterans had spoken out against the new Choice Program -- which allows veterans to seek care closer to home if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or face wait times of more than 30 days -- saying it jeopardized Alaska's existing VA system that the new program had used as a model. For years, the Alaska VA has partnered with tribal health programs to get rural veterans care. Last year, an overrun VA started sending some veterans to the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center in Anchorage.
Shawn Bransky, Alaska VA interim associate director, said that the Alaska VA spends, on average, about $103 million a year on health care purchased in the community outside the VA. That's roughly half of its total operating budget, he said. But this fiscal year, the Alaska VA only received about $78 million to purchase care in the community.
"There was the premise that the rest of that would come from the Choice Act and by moving our patients to that source of care." Bransky said. "As we moved through the year what we found, unfortunately, was that the startup of using Choice was not as quick as the (Veterans Health Administration) had anticipated."
Bransky said Wednesday that with recent legislative action, the Alaska VA had gained budget flexibility, and with it, about $21 million in additional funds for the remainder of the fiscal year to use for care purchased outside of the VA.