Tester introduces legislation to improve care for vets


by Martin Kidston

Sen. Jon Tester introduced legislation last week to improve the quality of care for veterans and to strengthen the Department of Veterans Affairs’ mental health and telemedicine initiatives.

Tester, D-Mont., is chairman of the Governmental Affairs subcommittee on federal workforce and programs. He introduced the Rural Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act after the group’s first hearing in May.

“I dedicated my first hearing to learning more about the challenges and opportunities facing our rural health initiatives, and this bill is a direct result of that,” Tester said.

The legislation encourages the VA to recruit more licensed professional mental health counselors, as well as marriage and family therapists.

It also gives the VA authority to provide mental health services to veterans’ immediate family members. It looks for issues hindering the expansion of telemedicine as a tool for treatment.

“This legislation is critical to ensuring the best care for our veterans, particularly mental health care,” said Thomas Clawson, president of the National Board of Certified Counselors. “By expanding the VA training program, the bill ensures an adequate mental health workforce for the growing veteran population.”

The bill also has the support of the Wounded Warrior Project.

Tester said he’s working to pass his Ruth Moore Act in the Senate. The bill helps survivors of military sexual assault win VA disability benefits.

As chairman of the subcommittee, Tester said the next hearing will analyze private contractors in the U.S. intelligence community and their access to classified security information, which was recently leaked.