Tester Demands Vote on Veterans First Act
Senator Highlights the Urgency of Fixing the Veterans Choice Program and Improving Access to Care
(U.S. Senate)-Senator Jon Tester this week took to the Senate Floor to demand a vote on his legislation to fix the Veterans' Choice Program and increase access to care for Montana veterans.
The Veterans' First Act was introduced in April and unanimously passed by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee more than one month ago. Tester pushed Senate leadership to put election year politics aside so veterans can more swiftly access the health care that they have earned.
"I am calling on the Senate to put politics aside and bring this bill to the floor for debate and for an up or down vote," Tester said. "The millions of veterans who are still being forced to wait more than 30 days to schedule an appointment deserve a vote, the veterans who are still kept on long wait lists deserve a vote, and the folks who sacrificed so much to protect and defend this country deserve a vote."
Tester helped author the Veterans First Act, which will fix the VA's Choice Program, bring more accountability and transparency to the VA, and enhance benefits and care to more veterans and their families.
The Veterans' First Act contains many provisions from Tester's VA Choice Program fix legislation, the Improving Veterans Access to Care in the Community Act, including provisions that will provide the VA with the flexibility to work directly with non-VA community providers to deliver care to veterans, and eliminate many of the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent veterans from accessing care in a timely manner like third-party administrators such as HealthNet.
The bipartisan bill additionally includes provisions from Tester's DOCS for Veterans Act, Tester's effort to reauthorize the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, and Tester's Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act.
Other than Tester's fix to the VA Choice Program, the Senate VA reform bill contains the following provisions Tester authored:
- Extends additional residency positions in the VA.
- Bolsters VA efforts to recruit more licensed mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists.
- Addresses leadership vacancies that remain prevalent at VA medical facilities, including Fort Harrison.
- Expands services for homeless veterans and increases Native American access to the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program.
- Expands VA caregiver services and extends caregiver support services for folks providing assistance to veterans of all ages.
- Requires stronger opioid prescription guidelines for health providers and patients.
- Increases research into the health conditions of descendants of veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
- Promotes more timely and appropriate vaccinations for veterans.
- Recognizes members of the National Guard and Reserve who have served for more than 20 years, but never deployed, as "veterans."
The VA's Choice Program allows veterans to access care outside the VA if they have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment or live more than 40 miles away from a VA clinic.