HELENA — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs named Kathy Berger permanent director of VA Montana, saying she will oversee delivery of health care to nearly 35,000 veterans and a budget of $226 million.
“We are excited to bring Dr. Berger on board in a permanent capacity as director of VA Montana Health Care System,” said Ralph Gigliotti, Veterans Integrated Service Network 19 director. “She has served exceptionally well as acting director for the past four months and we look forward to great things for Montana in the future under her direction.
The announcement brought comment from both of Montana’s U.S. senators that she has her work cut out for her.
“I have met with Kathy, and I believe she has the tools necessary to meet the responsibility of taking care of our veterans,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. “Kathy has a lot of work ahead of her, and I will continue to work with her and the staff at VA Montana to ensure the folks who served this nation are able to access the care they have earned.”
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said the appointment “is welcome news for Montana’s veterans and I wish Dr. Berger the best.”
“Now that our veterans have a new director I look forward to seeing a commitment and change to ensure their needs are not only being met, but that Montana’s veterans receive the best possible care,” he said.
Daines said he met Sept. 26 with VA Secretary Bob McDonald to discuss the need to appoint a new director that prioritizes Montana’s veterans.
VA Montana Health Care System has a VA presence in every major city in the state and covers the largest geographic area in the contiguous United States, officials said. With 99,646 veterans as residents, Montana has one of the largest per capita veteran populations. More than 1,000 people are employed at the 34-bed Fort Harrison VA Medical Center in Helena, the 12 community based outpatient clinics and three primary care tele-outreach clinics.
Berger has been serving as the interim director of VA Montana since June, when the previous director John Ginnity resigned.
She began her career with the VA as an registered nurse and has held leadership positions within the VA, including most recently as the director of the Sheridan VA Health Care System in Wyoming.
Berger joined the Sheridan VA as the associate director for patient care services in December 2013.
Prior to this, Berger served as the chief of quality, performance and patient safety at the Lexington, Kentucky VA Medical Center. She began her nursing career as a staff nurse in a university medical center and has worked in a broad range of healthcare settings, including critical care and medical-surgical units, travel nursing, home health, long term care and ambulatory care clinics.
Berger holds associate and bachelor’s degrees in nursing from Northern Kentucky University, a master’s in health care administration from California College of Health Sciences and a Doctor of Nursing Practice from the University of Kentucky.
She is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, American Nurses Association and Sigma Theta Tau.
Berger served in the Air Force for nine years, stationed at three bases stateside and was the officer in charge while deployed to Saudi Arabia. After her Air Force career, she joined the VA, as a nurse manager at the Cincinnati VAMC.
Ginnity was named the Montana VA permanent director in February 2015 after months of pressure from the Montana congressional delegation on the VA to select a director.
The facility had been without a permanent director since June 2014 and Ginnity was acting director until early 2015 when he reached the allowable federal limit to serve as acting director. Another Montana VA official had been named acting director for the time between when Ginnity reached the limit and when he was named permanent director.