Tester: Politics trumping veterans in Washington

Senator slams lawmakers for abandoning conference committee, failing to put veterans first

(U.S. SENATE) – Politics is trumping veterans in Washington, and Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is outraged.

Senator Jon Tester spoke on the Senate floor today after some lawmakers in the House of Representatives seemingly abandoned the idea of a compromise in the veterans conference committee by holding a meeting of their own at which they proposed their own legislation to reform the VA.

Tester said working through the conference committee is the only way to produce a strong, bipartisan compromise that will ensure veterans get better access to health care. He said the House’s stand-alone proposal would short-change veterans and divert funding away from other critical priorities.

“We’ve been working for six weeks to find a compromise bill that improves veterans’ access to care, holds the VA more accountable, and hires more medical professionals so veterans get the care when they need it,” Tester said. “But today, some politicians will introduce a bill of their own. It’s not aimed at benefitting our veterans. It’s a proposal to gain political favor.”

The conference committee began its work after the Senate and House of Representatives passed different VA reform bills in the wake of reports that the VA mismanaged waiting lists for veterans seeking care. Committee members have been negotiating over the scope and cost of the final bill.

The Senate passed its bill, 93-3, on June 11. The House approved its own measure one week later.

Tester, a member of the conference committee, slammed members of Congress for balking at the cost of reforming the VA, saying some of the lawmakers complaining about the cost of taking care of veterans never complained about the cost of sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I have news for them: taking care of veterans is a cost of war,” said Tester, who launched a veterans’ listening tour around Montana earlier this summer. “You don’t send young Americans to war and not take care of them. I’m incredibly disappointed by what’s taking place today. Our veterans deserve better.”

Tester has been a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee since he joined the Senate in 2007. He recently challenged his colleagues at a committee hearing, saying “veterans demonstrated their best in the field, we need to demonstrate our best as policymakers.”

Video of Tester’s floor speech can be viewed online HERE. More details and differences between the Senate’s and House of Representative’s bills, as well as Tester’s veterans’ priorities, are available online HERE.