Chairman Tester, VA Secretary McDonough Wrap Up Three Day Montana Tour with Veterans Listening Session at Montana National Guard Headquarters & Visit to Fort Harrison VA Medical Center
Final day of Secretary’s Montana tour included stops at Fort Harrison VA Medical Center, Guard Headquarters, and Fort Harrison Regional Benefits Office
U.S. Senator Jon Tester and Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough wrapped up their three day Montana tour today with a series of events in Helena, including a listening session at the Montana Army National Guard Headquarters and a tour of the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center where they heard directly from veterans, stakeholders, and local officials on a variety of issues.
In his capacity as the new Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Tester brought McDonough to the Treasure State to meet firsthand with veterans, VA employees, Veterans Service Organizations, local health care providers, officials, and members of the media on his first official trip as Cabinet Secretary. They hosted multiple listening sessions and VA facility tours this week in Billings, Bozeman, and Butte.
"It's an honor to host Secretary McDonough on his first trip to Montana to hear directly from veterans and advocates on how we can improve VA services in Helena and across the state," said Chairman Tester. "Montana veterans swore an oath to protect our country, and they deserve high-quality care and benefits in return for their sacrifices. Today's discussion focused on the needs of our nation's men and women in uniform, and I look forward to working with the Secretary to ensure they're addressed."
The roundtable covered a variety of issues including delivering COVID-19 relief, supporting women veterans, and addressing Agent Orange exposure. Tester and McDonough also heard from veterans on the critical need to expand health care options for those residing in rural areas-especially during the ongoing pandemic. They discussed the Senator's landmark Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act, a law that expands access to Veteran Centers and allows all Guardsmen to receive mental health and counseling services at VA.
Before the listening session, Tester and McDonough toured the newly opened $12 million primary care clinic at the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center where they met with veterans and employees. The 18,400 square feet clinic will serve approximately 5,000 veterans in the surrounding area and provide primary care and a variety of other services including dietary, pharmacy, mental health care, and telehealth. The space is designed around the Patient Aligned Care Team model, which provides care that is patient-driven, proactive, personalized, and team-based. Tester fought to secure funding for this facility as part of the 2019 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill to improve VA services and care for Montana veterans.
The Senator and Secretary also stopped by the Fort Harrison Regional Benefits Office to discuss Blue Water Navy veterans' care and benefits, employee vaccines, rural outreach, exams, and Federal Records. Following efforts by Tester, last week VA announced it would provide vaccines to National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) staff in order to expedite processing the national records requests backlog and provide veterans with timelier access to benefits.
Through his position on the committee, Chairman Tester has been fighting to ensure Montana's veterans and their families, especially those in rural areas, are supported during the ongoing pandemic. He worked tirelessly to ensure the most recent COVID relief bill delivered targeted resources to vaccinate, support, and protect veterans in Montana and across the country.