Tester seeks more agency collaboration

Great Falls Tribune

by Jenn Rowell

Veterans in rural Montana often have a harder time accessing resources available to them.

This week, Sen. Jon Tester asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to explore options to reach those veterans.

During a committee meeting, Tester asked VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers to expand the partnerships between the VA and local health providers.

“At a time when federal agencies are attempting to do more with less, it only makes sense to work more collaboratively with local partners, nonprofits and the private sector,” Tester said. “We’ve got a lot of folks out there that are willing to help, and we have a lot of challenges – we have to get the folks willing to help engaged in the process.”

Sowers mentioned that the VA works with multiple veterans service organizations and has expanded Mobile Vet Centers. In Montana, the Vet Center program has expanded, and there is a center in Great Falls that gets regular traffic. The VA also offers travel reimbursement for rural veterans who receive treatment at Vet Centers.

Tester has asked the VA to improve work with volunteer groups and local health providers to offer more services to veterans, especially with mental health issues.

Tester’s staff said he plans to introduces a bill that would lift the VA’s cap on student loan repayments and extend a scholarship program for health care providers who chose to work for the VA. The bill aims to encourage more doctors and other care providers to work for the VA and to help address the staffing challenges faced by VA facilities in rural areas.