Tester secures assurances from colleagues to address $2.5 billion VA budget crisis

Senator’s bills pass through VA Committee

(U.S. Senate) – In a Senate Veterans’ Affairs hearing, Senator Jon Tester today reached across the aisle to continue his call to address the $2.5 billion VA budget crisis that could cause veterans lose access to the care they have earned.

After pressuring his colleagues, Tester received assurance from Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) that he will work with House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R- Fla.) on a bill that will fix the VA’s budget crisis. Tester offered an amendment that would have provided the VA funding flexibility by allowing the VA to use $3 billion set aside for the Choice Program to pay for veterans care. Unfortunately, the amendment didn’t have enough support in the committee to get a vote.

“We cannot shirk our responsibility to care for veterans,” Tester said after the vote. “While I’m frustrated that some of my colleagues aren’t treating this issue with enough urgency, I am encouraged that the Committee agreed to work toward a solution and I will continue to hold their feet to the fire because we are running out of time to address this crisis.”

Tester’s amendment would not have increased spending at the VA, but rather, would have allowed the VA to access money that was already appropriated through the Choice Act.

VA officials have told Tester that the budget shortfall stems from their inability to transfer money from the Choice Program to the VA’s medical services account to support the growing number of veterans receiving care in the community. Additionally, more and more veterans are seeking life-saving treatments for Hepatitis C. The VA has said if the funding issue is not immediately addressed, VA facilities could be closed, staff may be furloughed, and more and more veterans will likely have their care delayed, and possibly denied in August.

Isakson told Tester that he is committed to working together to provide a long-term fix so that the funds appropriated for medical care will no longer be siloed off, limiting the VA’s budget flexibility.

Additionally in today’s hearing, the Committee unanimously advanced several Tester-authored measures, including provisions of Tester’s DOCS for Veterans Act that would expand the VA’s mental health workforce and require an assessment of VA efforts to address medical workforce shortages across the country, including reforms to ensure the VA is better able to address and prevent leadership vacancies like the one at Fort Harrison last year.

Tester, a senior member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, helped author the Veterans’ Choice Act last year and recently introduced the DOCS for Veterans Act to help recruit and retain VA health care professionals in rural America.