Alaigh, acting VA official and ex-N.J. health leader, unlikely to stay in D.C.

By Anjalee Khemlani
Washington, D.C. | Sep 8, 2017 at 9:02 am

Poonam Alaigh, the acting undersecretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, may not be interested in being appointed to the permanent position, ROI-NJ has learned.

Alaigh is likely to remove her name from consideration, according to a source close to Alaigh who is not authorized to speak on her behalf.

Alaigh, who was appointed to the acting role in May, previously served as the New Jersey Department of Health commissioner and as a consultant to Atlantic Health System’s Accountable Care Organization.

The source said Alaigh likely will return to New Jersey, where she has maintained residency.

Alaigh declined to comment on a potential appointment as undersecretary.

“I had committed to two years at the VA because I’m still here in New Jersey. My two years are going to be up in September,” she told ROI-NJ. “I will always work toward providing the very best care for veterans, whether it’s having the honor of serving them inside the VA or working outside the VA, so we develop a world-class integrated delivery system with a high-performing network that our veterans deserve and our country is proud of.”

Alaigh had served in an advisory role to VA Secretary David Shulkin — the only holdover from President Barack Obama’s administration currently serving in President Donald Trump’s cabinet — for the past two years. Shulkin also has been a health care leader in the Garden State, serving as president of Atlantic Health’s Morristown Medical Center from 2010 to 2015.

The duo has worked on several initiatives that have helped begin a rightsizing of the agency, which had found itself troubled by inadequate access to health care for veterans.

Garry Augustine, executive director of the nonprofit Disabled American Veterans, has worked with Alaigh and said her energy and work ethic invigorate the teams she works with.

“(She is) a very learned person, very upbeat. She is the kind of person that just raises up everyone around her,” Augustine said.

Some of the initiatives credited to her include a recent effort to create more employee and general public awareness of veteran suicides, he said. This includes more education on how to identify and help a veteran who may be suicidal.

Augustine said Alaigh also has been instrumental in creating more transparency in the department, so veterans are better informed about wait times and rate of infection at hospitals, through a website, to help them decide where to go for treatment.

If she leaves, Alaigh would be the latest departure from the Trump administration, which has seen a number of voluntary resignations from agencies and advisory councils in the past few months.

Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem