Tester meets with VA Secretary, gets update on search for new head of VA Montana

Senator pushes McDonald on visit to Montana, Butte Veterans Home, Project ARCH

(U.S. Senate) – Senator Jon Tester today met with Robert McDonald, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to get an update on the search for a new Director of VA Montana and press him on multiple issues related to Montana veterans.

McDonald, who became the eighth Secretary of the VA in July, told Tester that his department was “close” to naming a new director. Montana has not had a permanent VA director since June.

“Montana veterans need someone who will fight for them,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “It’s important to fill that position so Montana veterans get the service they earned. I’m pushing to bring the Secretary to Montana to see how important the VA’s work is on the ground and the obstacles rural veterans face in a state like Montana.”

Tester and McDonald also discussed improving the backlog in VA health care, a problem brought on by more than a decade of war, insufficient budgets and bureaucratic mismanagement.

The pair spoke about building the Butte Veterans Home and veterans’ mental health care. They also discussed streamlining payment issues within Project ARCH – an initiative that allows eligible rural veterans to receive care closer to home through a non-VA health care provider.

Tester told McDonald that during his visit to Montana the Secretary could meet veterans in Butte to hear first-hand about the need to build a new Veterans Home in southwest Montana, as well as visit Fort Harrison in Helena and the Billings VA Clinic. McDonald, who replaced former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, told Tester the VA was making reforms to reduce wait times at VA facilities and reduce veterans’ homelessness.

Tester will question VA officials on Wednesday at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on how to improve veterans’ mental health treatment.

Tester was a key figure in approving the VA reform bill in July. He was a member of the conference committee that hashed out differences between the Senate and House of Representatives’ bills and held eight veterans listening sessions around Montana this summer to hear directly from Montana veterans about the care they receive.