Tester announces VA legislation, listening tour
HELENA, Mont. (AP) – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester on Sunday announced legislation and a listening tour to help solve systemic problems facing the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.
Tester, a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee member since 2007, spoke in Helena in the wake of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation Friday. Shinseki had been facing mounting pressure to step down from lawmakers in both parties since a scathing internal report out last week found broad and deep-seated problems in the sprawling health care system, which provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.
“Secretary Shinseki’s resignation will not fix all the problems of the VA,” Tester said. “We must fix the systemic issues at the department that leads to the lack of accountability, transparency, long wait times and a shortage of trained medical employees.”
To that end, Tester announced legislation including a bill strengthening the role of the VA’s Office of the Medical Inspector, which would make their reports public for the first time. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Tester is also allocating $5 million to investigate facilities around the country.
He’s also supporting Appropriations language that allocates additional funding for the Department of Justice to investigate any criminal wrongdoing at the VA.
“We all know that the VA is home to thousands of workers who dedicate their lives to helping veterans and I’ve met staff in Montana that do nothing short of outstanding work, but as we’ve seen lately there are some bad apples around the country,” Tester said.
Tester added that his office would set up a system to take confidential VA whistleblower complaints.