Tester working to improve VA phone system

Senator takes action as veterans’ frustration with agency reaches new heights

(U.S. SENATE) – With Montana veterans waiting far too long to reach “a live person” to schedule appointments or receive critical medical services, Senator Jon Tester is pushing the VA to fix its beleaguered phone system.

Tester today asked Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to allow regional VA officials the flexibility to invest in new phone technology that meets the needs of local VA facilities, like Montana’s Fort Harrison.

In a letter to Shinseki, Tester said that leadership at the Montana VA has made a number of reforms, but permitting officials greater discretion in improving the system will help address specific local needs.

“It only makes sense that local officials are most familiar with local needs and can best spend this funding on areas of greatest need and highest priority,” Tester wrote Shinseki.  “It is critical that the VA make wise investments with this funding so that it has the biggest impact on improving care and services for our veterans.”

Veterans consistently tell Tester that they cannot get through on the phone to the VA and spend undue lengths of time waiting on hold.  Some veterans have resorted to showing up at VA offices without appointments.

Tester has brought the concerns from Montana directly to the VA, and recently learned that the agency limits what improvements local facilities can make to their phone systems.

Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, added that it is important that his colleagues in Congress provide the VA with adequate resources.

“For veterans, access to medical services is critical,” Tester said.  “No veteran who sacrificed for this country should have to suffer the indignity of waiting on hold for a prolonged period to schedule a check-up.  It’s time something gets done.”  

Tester is a powerful advocate for Montana veterans.  He most recently got the Senate to pass a 3.6 percent “cost of living” increase for veterans’ benefits in 2012.

Tester’s letter to Shinseki appears below and online HERE.


Dear Secretary Shinseki:

I write today to express my ongoing concerns with the phone system at the Fort Harrison VA Medical Facility. There is an unacceptable number of Montana veterans who continue to have difficulty reaching a live person to schedule an appointment, and they experience undue waiting times in the process.  As you heard from countless veterans during recent trip to the state, this issue continues to challenge and greatly frustrate Montana veterans who are simply seeking access to the care and services they have earned.

Leadership at the Montana VA has recently made a number of needed reforms to the phone system and I am grateful for the progress they have made but we need to do more. It is my understanding that one major hindrance to that progress is the inability of local VA officials to make investments in information technology in a manner that best address their specific needs and priorities. Instead, these funds are allocated largely at the discretion of the VA Office of Information and Technology in Washington. Understanding the need to ensure this funding is spent wisely and efficiently, I believe that more discretion and flexibility should be given to the Veterans Integrated Service Networks in the allocation of these funds. It only makes sense as local officials are most familiar with local requirements and can best spend this funding within areas that have the greatest need and highest priority.
As we look to improve the efficiency of delivery and quality of care at the VA, it is critical that Congress provide adequate resources so the VA can make needed investments in information technology. There is no doubt about that. But it is also critical that the VA make wise investments with this funding so that it has the biggest impact on improving care and services for our veterans.

I appreciate your continued leadership on behalf of our veterans, and I look forward to your response.

Jon Tester