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story.lead_photo.caption Bryan Matthews, director of the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, speaks Wednesday in his office in Fayetteville. Matthews is leaving after about two years in Fayetteville and has accepted a similar position in Biloxi, Miss. - Photo by Andy Shupe

FAYETTEVILLE -- Bryan C. Matthews is leaving as director of the Fayetteville-based Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, a post he held for two years.

Matthews takes over the Biloxi, Miss.-based system Monday. He will leave a four-star operation, which serves veterans in Arkansas and Missouri, in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' five-star rating system. The system's performance prompted a June visit from the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin. Matthews will not be around to see the opening of a 20-bed substance abuse and mental health treatment facility in the late spring or early summer or the expansion of the Ozarks system's health clinics and other projects he launched during his stay as director.

At a glance

The Ozarks system serves veterans in 23 counties in Northwest Arkansas, southwest Missouri and eastern Oklahoma. Besides the hospital in Fayetteville, the system has clinics in Fort Smith, Harrison and Ozark in Arkansas; Branson and Mount Vernon in Missouri; and in Jay, Okla.

— Staff Report

Matthews took over in Fayetteville on Dec. 27, 2015. He has previously served as director of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, DC. Associate Director Kelvin Parks will take over until a replacement is named, Matthews said.

"As an Army brat and then with a 22-year career in the Air Force who moved somewhere new every two or three years, I think I have some credibility when I say that this is one of the best places I've ever been at," Matthew said of Northwest Arkansas. Matthews met with reporters Wednesday morning.

"This area is one of the best-kept secrets there is," he said, citing the community's leadership and broad-based support for community causes, including concern for its veterans.

The Ozarks system avoided many of the problems found recently in other parts of the Veterans Affairs system, never falling below three stars in the department's rating. It reached the top rating of five stars during Matthews' tenure before being rated at four last year. He said the system is far along the path of regaining that top rating.

The Ozarks system expects to see the opening of two new clinics in Missouri, in Springfield and Joplin, and the relocation and expansion of its clinic in Fort Smith this year.

"I'm leaving a lot of things, but am confident they are on their way to fruition," Matthews said.

"Bryan Matthews has served the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks well over the past two years," 3rd District Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said in a statement Wednesday. "Thank you for your commitment and service to our many veterans across the state of Arkansas."

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Rogers, said Matthews' commitment to ensuring quality care for veterans deserve has been first class.

"Under his leadership, the hospital has increased its outreach and worked closely with the Vet Center to ensure our veterans' needs are being met. Every step of the way, it's clear that director Matthews had our veterans' best interests in mind." he said.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan of Fayetteville praised Matthews' cooperation with the city. "He has always shown great compassion for our veterans. He was also a great partner to the city. He was very easy to work with on projects such as the Moving Wall Vietnam Veteran Memorial, creating a VA Bikeway route through the VA medical center campus and the many veteran events hosted at the hospital," Jordan said.

The Biloxi-based system recently gained a two-star rating after many years as a one-star system, Matthews said. He hopes to apply many of the changes that worked in Arkansas and Missouri to the Biloxi system, he said.

"I learned a lot of things that worked here," he said of the Ozarks system. "The biggest thing I learned is that this is about employees, about veterans and about the community. You need all of them, and you especially rely on community support and employees. A happy employee equals a happy veteran."

The challenges he leaves behind include one of the most persistent during his tenure, Matthews said. Recruiting medical specialists, including psychiatrists, has been a constant struggle. The shortage of specialists means the medical center has to refer patients to providers outside the system.

NW News on 01/18/2018

Print Headline: VA health care director is leaving

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