Tester is now ranking Democrat on Veterans' Affairs Committee

by KECI Staff, NBC Montana

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is now the ranking democrat on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

We’ve been covering veterans and their struggle to find quality health care for the last year. When Tester received the new high ranking position he called us first to talk about his hope for the new administration and the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Part of what he talked about focused on Veterans Choice. That’s the program designed to help rural vets get in to see a private health provider. Trouble is veterans are reporting long waits. Sometimes their bills aren’t paid. It’s left them angry with both the VA and Choice’s third party administrator, Health Net.

Tester has a simple message for the incoming administration. “We can either work together to make Choice work. We can work together to make sure veterans have the health care they were promised and have the housing they were promised and jobs they were promised. Or, on the other hand, he could put somebody in who wants to totally privatize the VA, which I think would be a huge mistake.”

Tester’s bill designed to fix problems in the Choice Act passed out of committee earlier this year, but it is still stuck on the Senate floor.

“For whatever reasons a bill that passed unanimously out of committee six months ago still hasn’t seen the light of day on the Senate floor, and I think it speaks to the dysfunction in Washington, D.C.,” Tester said. “It’s a bill that will help the VA do its job, and I think it’s ridiculous we haven’t taken it up already, but I’ll work with Johnny, he’s in the majority, and hopefully we can get (Mitch) McConnell to get it to the floor.”

Tester is talking about U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson from Georgia. The change puts Tester as the senior Democrat and second in charge of the committee behind its Republican chairman.