Make vets’ health care a national priority, Tester tells VA Secretary

Senator shares concerns from Montana vets with Secretary Jim Nicholson

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — The U.S. government breaks promises every time veterans have to beg for health care, Senator Jon Tester told the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Administration today.

Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, also shared concerns from Montana veterans with Secretary Jim Nicholson.

"I have serious concerns about the VA system.  I told Secretary Nicholson it's time to make accessible, quality health care for our nation's vets a national priority," Tester said. "We promise good health care to all folks who put their lives on the line, but year after year, too many of our veterans have to beg for it, hat-in-hand."

Tester is an advocate of veterans' issues.  The issues recently received national attention after reports of shabby conditions and substandard outpatient care at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Tester recently held several listening sessions for Montana veterans.  He hopes to hold similar meetings across the state. Common concerns raised during the listening sessions include:

  • Red Tape: Many veterans receive good health care, but they endure long waits, confusing paperwork and other complications arising from government bureaucracy.
  • Mileage Reimbursement: Vets who have to travel across Montana    to receive health care at the state's only vets' hospital in Helena receive only 11 cents per mile for reimbursement.  That rate hasn't changed since    1977.
  • Mandatory Funding: The Veterans Administration does not receive mandatory annual funding.  The VA instead has to risk receiving a lower budget every year.
  • Changing Needs:  Many vets say the VA is not prepared to take care of the growing needs of thousands of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Many of the wounded (both physically and psychologically) require lifelong care.

"I look forward to working with Secretary Nicholson and my colleagues on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to make some long-overdue changes," Tester said.  "We owe it to all our men and women in uniform and those who have served us well."

Tester this week asked the Veterans Administration to approve plans for a new state veterans' cemetery in Missoula.

On Saturday, Tester will tour Helena's Ft. Harrison Medical Center, which many Montana vets consider a good example of a vets' hospital.  Tester will also meet with Ft. Harrison's administrators.