KTVQ: Tester hosts Billings town hall on veterans’ healthcare

by Russ Riesinger

Improving healthcare of veterans was the subject of a town hall meeting in Billings Friday as Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester hosted the VA Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Shereef Elnahal.

Elnahal talked about the need to increase staffing and improve systems so that veterans can stay closer to home for care.

“The process that we have for hiring is too long. The dependency that we have on other agencies and some of the other regulations and rules need to be changed to make it easier to onboard people,” said Elnahal. “We have a legislative proposal to relieve us of the $400,000 aggregate pay cap for physicians, especially in rural areas where it is harder to recruit and bring folks into those areas. That’s just one of many examples where we can help rural Montanans and the vets here in this state.”

Elnahal also talked about the need for more staff in community care offices and ways that wait times for appointments can be improved.

“It’s an issue with our processes and systems. We have to do better on that both from a policy standpoint but also just to think more about the user at the end, the employee at the end, who is in front of that veteran and the things we can actually do to design so that they can serve that veteran,” he said.

Tester and Elnahal then headed to Miles City, where they were set to host another roundtable and visit with rural hospital administrators.

Tester, who is chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, championed the PACT Act, which provides support to toxic-exposed veterans. He says its imperative that Congress comes together to pass the Omnibus Bill—which provides funding for the PACT Act and VA medical care as well as defense and non-defense spending.

“It is important that we get a bill that works for America. If we don’t then all this good legislation that we passed, whether it be Chips Act or the PACT act in the VA or the bipartisan Infrastructure bill, they don’t get funded at the level they need to be funded at. And on the defense side of things it puts out national security at risk,” he says.

Current government funding is set to expire next Friday, Dec. 16.

Tester hosts Billings town hall on veterans’ healthcare (ktvq.com)