Tester shares his 2009 veterans’ agenda with VA Secretary nominee

Senator outlines goals, concerns during confirmation hearing today

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today outlined his priorities for 2009 as a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

During a confirmation hearing this morning for Gen. Eric Shinseki, Tester shared plans to improve health care for American Indian veterans, improve electronic record-sharing, and provide quick and accurate disability ratings.  Shinseki is President-elect Obama’s nominee to serve as the nation’s next Veterans Affairs Secretary.

Tester said he plans to vote to confirm Shinseki for the job, adding that the VA “is an agency with a lot of challenges.”

“It will take Gen. Shinseki’s leadership to see the VA through those challenges,” Tester said.  “At the end of his service, I hope that we can say that great progress has been made.”

Tester specifically mentioned that he wants to work with Shinseki on four areas to live up to the promises made to all American veterans:

  • Improving electronic record sharing between the Veterans’ Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense. 
  • Making sure veterans receive an accurate and prompt disability evaluation and treatment as necessary.  Tester said it currently takes an average of 180 days for a benefit claim to be resolved.  More than half of VA’s workload is on cases that are being re-examined.
  • Improving mental health care and family reintegration issues for Reservists and even active-duty troops.
  • Improving American Indians’ access to VA health care.

Last month, Shinseki agreed to visit Montana at Tester’s request, so Shinseki can “see for himself” the challenges of Montana’s rural veterans.

Shinseki is a decorated, 38-year veteran of the U.S. Army. He served two tours in Vietnam after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Shinseki was the Army's Chief of Staff between 1999 and 2003. He has earned numerous medals including the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.