VA ought to look to Ft. Harrison as an example, Tester says after tour

Senator also appoints Iraq veteran as VA liaison

(FORT HARRISON, Mont.) – The U.S. Veterans Administration ought to look to Ft. Harrison Medical Center as an example of how to provide accessible, quality health care to the nation's vets, Senator Jon Tester said after touring the hospital Saturday.

Tester is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  He asked to tour Ft. Harrison after hearing of system-wide problems in the VA system from Montana veterans.

Many of those vets, however, said Ft. Harrison is an exception.

"I want to see what makes Ft. Harrison stand out from the crowd," Tester said. "Across the system, too many vets have to beg for the health care they deserve and are promised. How can we make Ft. Harrison a model for other vets' hospitals around the country?"

After the tour, Tester formally introduced Jed C. Fitch, his new veterans' affairs liaison who will work out of Great Falls beginning in late March.

Fitch is a former captain in the U.S. Marine Corps and a veteran of the war in Iraq.  He was part of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines Regiment, where he took part in combat patrols along the Iraq/Syria border.  He also served as a Marine Corps judge advocate.  Fitch is admitted to the Montana State Bar and currently runs his own law practice in Butte.  He holds a J.D. from the University of Montana School of Law.

"Jed was a fine public servant as a Marine, and he'll be a fine public servant for Montanans," Tester said. "He is well-qualified to serve Montana's vets and to make sure their needs and concerns are addressed and brought to my attention. I'm proud to welcome him to my office."

In addition to his role as a veterans' affairs liaison, Fitch will advise Tester on issues relating to homeland security, active military personnel and defense.  He will also handle Tester's nominations to the military academies.

Earlier this week Tester met with Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson to share his concerns over problems in the VA system including accessible, quality health care, long waits, confusing paperwork and low mileage reimbursement rates.

Tester shared some of those concerns again today while touring Ft. Harrison with Administrator Joe Underkofler, Maj. Gen. Randy Mosley, the adjutant general of the Montana National Guard, and Montana Veterans Affairs Administrator Joe Foster.