VA improvement bill filled with Tester provisions
Senator’s influence found throughout measure to improve veterans’ care
(U.S. SENATE) – The influence of Senator Jon Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, can be found throughout a new measure designed to increase accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs and improve veterans’ health care.
The bill, introduced this week by Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), takes strong steps to increase oversight of the VA, address VA workforce shortages and increase veterans’ access to care and benefits.
Tester has made improving veterans’ health care – and particularly access to care – a major focus since he joined the Senate. In his first year in the Senate, Tester secured an increase in the VA’s reimbursement for disabled veterans from 11 cents to 41.5 cents per mile.
Tester and Sanders’ measure, the Restoring Veterans Trust Act, comes in the wake of reports alleging that VA health officials put veterans on a secret waiting list that prevented them from getting timely care.
Included in the bill are multiple provisions written by Tester aimed at fixing some of the underlying causes of access problems at the VA. His measures would:
Increase access and accountability by:
- Providing the VA with more flexibility to recruit and retain medical professionals by increasing the cap for student loan repayments.
- Reauthorizing an education assistance program for students pursing education or training that would lead to employment with VA.
- Reauthorizing the Veterans Transportation Service program to provide additional transportation options for veterans accessing VA health facilities.
- Identifying issues that may be impeding the provision of telemedicine services, particularly in rural areas, and requires VA actions to address issues.
Improve support for veterans and their families by:
- Reforming the process for veterans who experienced a sexual assault in the military to receive VA disability benefits.
- Authorizing advance appropriations for discretionary VA accounts, including medical-related IT initiatives, such as scheduling software and programs.
- Directing the VA to improve the timeliness and accuracy of claims for widows seeking survivor benefits.
- Improving the process through which veterans receive immunizations.
Improve veterans’ access to mental health care by:
- Bringing more Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists into the VA mental health workforce.
Tester’s Restoring Veterans Trust Act is co-sponsored by fellow Montana Senator John Walsh.