Tester: VA to add benefits office to expanded Billings VA clinic

Senator also secures commitment for 12 vans for Montana veterans

(U.S. SENATE) – The second phase of Billings’ new VA Clinic will include a satellite office of the Veterans’ Benefits Administration to better serve veterans across eastern Montana, Senator Jon Tester announced today.

Tester also secured a dozen VA vans to transport Montana veterans in rural and frontier areas to health care facilities.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki committed to establishing a benefits office during Tester’s public town hall meeting Friday in Billings.  Shinseki also said he will try to “move the timeline up” for the second phase of construction of the clinic, which will double its size and create as many as 70 jobs.

“With a benefits office, a same-day surgery center, a pharmacy and dental and physical therapy services, the completed VA Clinic in Billings will offer many of the same services as Fort Harrison and it will save a lot of veterans from traveling a lot of extra miles,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. 

Fort Harrison is currently the only place in the state with a Veterans Benefits Administration office.  An additional Veterans Benefits Administration office will help improve the time it takes to process disability claims, something Tester has criticized.  The Billings VA Clinic’s second phase of construction is scheduled to be complete by 2014.

At Tester’s urging, Shinseki also announced that Montana has been selected to be part of the Veteran Transportation System–a pilot project that helps transport veterans in rural and frontier areas to health care facilities.

Montana is scheduled to initially receive up to seven transportation vans and 12 total by the end of the year, Tester said.  Montana’s VA office will determine where the vans will go.

“Veterans told us over and over that the VA needs to improve access to quality health care for folks who live in rural and frontier communities,” Tester said.  “This new project will improve that access in Montana, and it will help guide the VA as it addresses the critical issue of transportation in the future.”

Shinseki joined Tester for four listening sessions and roundtable meetings in Helena, Bozeman and Billings in early July.