Tester, VA secretary visit UM to talk to veterans




On Tuesday, Sen. Jon Tester and Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald visited to the University of Montana’s campus after a trip to Helena.

Tester and McDonald plan to work together to ensure that veterans can access high-quality and timely care, no matter where they live.

The room was packed with veterans, students and professors. McDonald and Tester said they both want to work together to identify problems veterans are facing today and find solutions.

“The challenges that we have in this state are many, and they are different from urban areas, and that’s no exception with the veterans,” said Tester.

McDonald has been in his position since July of 2014, and in that time, he’s visited about 120 different VA locations. He said Montana has an extraordinarily high veteran population per capita.

“Ten percent, roughly, of the inhabitants in Montana are veterans — 100,000 of a million,” said McDonald.

It’s hard to reach out to each one of them, but McDonald said he will tackle one issue at a time.

He said he has seen a lack of doctors, nurses, social workers and providers for the VA and wants to recruit employees.

The VA has three important parts to it when it comes to health care. At the top of the list is research. The VA has spent approximately $1.8 million on research per year, which has led to inventions like the nicotine patch and shingles vaccine. Another is teaching. McDonald said the VA has trained more than 70 percent of doctors in the country. THe third component is the VA’s clinical care.

“Without the VA, I don’t know what American medicine would do,” said McDonald.

McDonald would like veterans to join the VA workforce, and said he’s here to answer questions.

Right now, it all comes down to one simple mission, he says, it’s time to take care of our veterans who take care of us.

McDonald and Tester announced that $93 million in grants will help reduce veteran homelessness in the nation and $6 million of that would come to Montana.