Tester holds VA leadership accountable for veterans’ access to healthcare

At high profile hearing, Senator says facts must guide response

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today told VA Secretary Eric Shinseki that “heads should roll” if recent allegations of inadequate care at VA facilities are true, but that facts must guide the government’s response.

Tester has served on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee since his first day in the Senate. At today’s hearing, he said that strong action is needed to make sure all veterans can access the care they earned, but that only a continued focus on veterans’ care will lead to improved results.

“If we are truly interested in honoring veterans and doing right by them, we must have a productive conversation about access to care,” Tester said. “Let’s talk about workforce shortages, improving transportation, and building partnerships between the VA and local providers.”

Today’s hearing was called to look into recent allegations that a number of veterans died while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix VA, many of whom were placed on a “secret waiting list.” It also examined how the department is delivering care, its budgetary needs and its recruitment and retention of employees.

“As an elected official, the most meaningful and most difficult decision I ever have to confront is the questions of sending our men and women into harm’s way,” Tester said. “Veterans deserve our best, they have sacrificed much. Let’s have these conversations so we can provide veterans with meaningful action.”

The VA’s Health Administration is the nation’s largest integrated medical system, operating more than 1,700 points of care and employing more than 300,000 people. In 2013, it handled nearly 90 million outpatient visits. A recent independent study found that nine out of ten veterans were satisfied with the care they received at the VA.

Representatives from numerous Veterans Service Organizations also addressed the committee at today’s hearing with Secretary Shinseki and VA Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Bob Petzel. The veterans groups present agreed that the VA provides high quality health care, but that more needs to be done to improve the timeliness of care.

Tester recently helped dedicate the expanded Billings VA Clinic, which will provide outpatient surgery and specialty services to nearly 20,000 veterans in Montana and Wyoming. He worked with local veterans and the VA for six years to help secure funding for the clinic.

Tester has successfully fought to improve Montana veterans’ quality of care by increasing access to telehealth services, supporting new VA clinics and pushing the VA to improve staffing. He will return to Billings on Memorial Day to dedicate the new National VA Cemetery in Yellowstone County.

Click HERE for a comprehensive list of Tester’s work on veterans’ issues.

Full video from today’s hearing, as well as a full list of hearing attendees, is available online HERE.