Tester praises VA decision to launch high-tech pilot program in Montana

Announcement follows recent visit to Montana by VA Secretary

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today praised the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for choosing Montana as the ideal location to launch a new high-tech pilot program that brings rural veterans closer to their health care.

The VA calls its new program an "innovative, first-of-its kind" system that uses video-conferencing technology to link the VA's regional benefits office at Fort Harrison to the Valley Veterans Service Center (VSCC) in Hamilton.  The new pilot program will provide face-to-face assistance to veterans who don't live near Fort Harrison.

"I'm glad Secretary Peake got a feel for how big and frontier Montana is and he realized how much of a challenge it is to make sure all veterans have good access to health care and benefits information," Tester said.   "This is a good first step, and it took working together to get it done."

At Tester's invitation, VA Secretary James Peake visited Billings and Helena last month, taking part in town hall meetings and touring VA facilities.

Hamilton's Valley Veterans Service Center is a volunteer-based organization that provides services to veterans.  Tester arranged to have VSCC Director Ron Skinner take part in a roundtable discussion last month with Peake at Fort Harrison.

Peake said that the new pilot program will "minimize the distance veterans and their families in rural areas of Montana have to travel to access their earned benefits."

Last year, Tester included $125 million in a funding measure to increase the VA's mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans from 11-cents to 28.5-cents per mile.  The increase, which went into effect in February, was the first in 30 years.