Tester fights to protect VA residency positions

Despite funding uncertainty, 1,500 new residency slots are set to open up under the Choice Act

(U.S. Senate) – Senator Jon Tester secured assurance from senior VA officials that up to 1,500 additional medical residency positions created under the Veterans Choice Act will be assigned as scheduled this fall.

During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing, Tester questioned VA Acting Principal Undersecretary for Health Dr. James Tuchschmidt on the challenges of providing predictable funding for three-year residency programs when Congress is only allowed to appropriate two years’ worth of funding at a time.

Tester was concerned that the funding uncertainty for the last year of residency could deter students from enrolling and expose the VA to financial liability.

“This place changes every two years, and if you have three years in a residency program, you have got to have the money for all three years,” Tester questioned. “So if your budget comes in a little bit short, will the additional residency positions be eliminated?”

“I doubt it because we have made commitments at this point,” Dr. Tuchschmidt replied.

The VA has begun identifying the first installment of residency doctors and will prioritize assigning those doctors to under resourced VA facilities. Tester has been working with the VA to deploy residency doctors to VA facilities in Montana.

The VA will continue to increase the number of residency positions until they reach a total of up to 1,500 over the next four years.

“These residency slots will help reduce wait times and backlogs for veterans seeking care, while also encouraging medical students to come to work at the VA,” Tester said after the hearing. “As the Ranking Member of the VA Appropriations Subcommittee, I will continue to push for robust funding for this program.”

Last month, after touring Montana with VA Secretary Robert McDonald, Tester requested that the VA formalize a partnership with the Billings Clinic and the University of Washington’s Department of Psychiatry to establish a residency program.