Tester: Senate bill boosts resources for veterans, increases VA accountability

Senator also backs bipartisan measure to increase oversight of VA healthcare

(U.S. SENATE) – The Senate panel in charge of funding the VA today approved a bipartisan budget plan for the department that boosts resources and services for veterans while holding the VA more accountable for providing timely and efficient care.

Senator Jon Tester, a member of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, said the bill will help investigators get to the bottom of the recent allegations of mishandled veterans care at the VA.

He highlighted the bill’s increased support for the VA’s independent Office of the Inspector General, which is conducting a nationwide review of VA scheduling practices.

“With veterans continuing to return from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, demand for VA services continues to increase,” said Tester, who is also a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “We must make sure the VA is ready to provide timely, high quality care and services. This bill boosts resources while holding the department accountable for the care and support it provides.”

Today’s bill includes Tester’s provision to increase transparency and bring additional oversight to the Veterans Health Administration. The provision requires the VA’s Medical Inspector to publically report and submit to Congress regular reports on problems or deficiencies within the Veterans Health Administration. The provision builds on the bipartisan Increasing Medical Oversight in the VA Act that Tester and fellow Montana Senator John Walsh are introducing today.

Tester joined all of the panel’s Senators in approving today’s bill. The bill provides additional funding to help the VA continue to reduce the VA disability claims backlog, and funds Tester’s priorities such as access to care for rural veterans, telehealth and vet centers.

The measure also blocks performance bonuses to senior VA employees and VA medical directors currently under investigation and provides the VA Secretary greater authority to fire or demote senior managers for performance problems.

Tester recently held VA leadership accountable for veterans’ access to healthcare at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The bill provides:

  • $7.2 billion to support improved mental health care
  • $567 million for expanded tele-health services
  • $403 million specifically for women’s health care to meet the unique needs of female veterans
  • $250 million specifically for new efforts to improve rural veterans’ health care
  • $237 million for counseling services for veterans and their families
  • $58 million to support the VA’s Rural Veterans Burial initiative which includes the Yellowstone National Cemetery
  • $38 million to repair and modernize the Montana Army National Guard’s readiness center in Helena

A summary of the bill is available online HERE. The full Senate will next consider the legislation.