Tester: New mental health facility lives up to our promise to veterans

(FORT HARRISON, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester today joined Veterans Affairs Undersecretary Dr. Robert Petzel for the dedication of the new mental health care facility at the VA Hospital at Fort Harrison.

Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Appropriations Committees, pushed for funding for the new mental health wing.  Funding for the facility was available because of increases in the VA’s budget in 2008 and 2009.

 “Today we recognize and honor our  commitment to treating the invisible wounds affecting too many Montana veterans,” said Tester, who authored the groundbreaking Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement ActThis facility will serve the needs of Montana’s and America’s heroes for generations to come.”

The facility has 24 inpatient beds to treat veterans suffering from PTSD, substance abuse, and acute mental health problems.  It is Montana’s only veteran inpatient mental health care facility.

Prior to the new facility opening, Montana veterans in need of mental health care treatment were forced to travel out-of-state, often leaving family members behind in Montana.

“Part of treating the invisible wounds of war involves the support of a veteran’s family and friends,” Tester said. “Today, that support network will be able to stay close them as they recover in this state-of-the-art facility.”

Tester’s remarks from the dedication ceremony are below.


U.S. Senator Jon Tester


*As prepared for delivery*

Ft. Harrison Mental Health Facility Dedication

June 3, 2011


Thanks for that kind introduction.

We’re here today to do right by Montana’s veterans, and before I say a few words, I want to recognize a Montana veteran we lost this week.

Ray Peck set the standard for public service—dating back from his time in the Air Force during World-War-two.

More than a veteran, Ray was a great Montanan and a close friend of Sharla’s and mine, and I ask everyone to join me now in a moment of a silence for Ray.

I want to begin by saying thank you to all the veterans here today.

There are some more folks here who also deserve a special thanks. 

First to the members of the Veterans Rural Health Advisory Committee, who met in Helena this week.  Your work on behalf of rural veterans is appreciated. 

And thanks to two men offering a Montana perspective on that board: Jim Ahrens and Abe Abramson.

I also want to thank Dr. Robert Petzel, VA Under Secretary for Health.  Glen Grippen, VA Rocky Mountain Regional Director from Denver.  And, of course, Robin Korogi, VA Montana Director.  Thank you all for your work for Montana’s veterans.

There are also folks here today from the several veterans service organizations, who were good enough to meet with me this morning and give me their input. That’s important.  And that’s the way it’s supposed to work:  You talk, I listen, and then we act.

I was elected with a promise that I’d make the U-S Senate look a little more like Montana. I’m proud that we’ve taken some big steps in that direction, especially for America’s rural veterans.

A real rural perspective is something that had been missing in Congress over the past decade. And that’s important, because—as everyone here today knows—rural communities face some unique challenges in providing care for our veterans.


That’s why, from my spot on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I wrote the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which is already expanding access and helping recruit high quality health providers in rural areas. It’s why I fought hard for, and won, funding for new VA Clinics in places like Lewistown, Havre, Libby and Cut Bank.

And it’s why I fought for and won new Vet Centers in places like Great Falls, Missoula, and Kalispell.

Our new Vet Centers are especially important as we work to treat veterans’ injuries that go unseen.

I’ve fought for projects like these because every new set of doors that open for our veterans brings the benefits they’ve earned a little bit more accessible.

And our efforts to expand access are paying off.  Robin told me the news that, because of our work, we’ve seen a seven-percent increase in the number of veterans using VA health care in Montana in the past year.

In a rural state like Montana with the second-highest rate of veterans in the country, that’s a big deal.

The new facility we’re dedicating today is just the next step in strengthening health care for Montana’s veterans and bringing good health closer to veterans throughout the state. I was proud to fight for this project in the Senate, because it means veterans facing mental health issues will be able to get treatment right here in Montana.

In the past, these folks were being sent out of state for treatment, sometimes as far as California or Minnesota. Now they’ll be able to get the health care they’ve earned here at home.

That’s what my fight for Montana’s veterans is all about—meeting the unique needs of veterans living in rural and frontier communities.

There are a lot of politicians in Congress who think we can balance the budget only by cutting benefits for our veterans, or slashing services our veterans rely on. But we all understand that the promise made to our nation’s veterans is a sacred pledge.

And I plan to keep fighting as hard as I can to make sure that promise is kept.

And I look forward to continuing to work with all of you.

Congratulations, and thanks again.