Tester Pushes VA to Better Recognize the Needs of Rural Veterans, Challenges with HealthNet

Senator Demands Answers and Updates From Top VA Officials After Their Recent Visit to Montana

(U.S. Senate)-On the heels of the VA’s recent trip to Montana, Senator Jon Tester today pushed senior VA officials to recognize the unique needs facing rural veterans and address the challenges Montana veterans are having with the Veterans’ Choice Program’s third party administrator, HealthNet.

During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, Tester asked VA Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care, Baligh Yehia, to relay the VA’s findings from his recent trip to Fort Harrison where he met with HealthNet, local VA officials and Tester’s staff.

“Tell me what the major takeaways and deliverables were from your trip to Montana to make Choice work better for veterans in rural areas,” Tester asked Yehia. “Is HealthNet delivering on the promises that they made when they got the contract?”

Yehia responded that in order to make the Veterans’ Choice Program work better in rural areas the VA must eliminate their “cookie-cutter” approach to administrating care, and the Veterans’ Choice Program must provide more flexibility in reimbursement rates for rural health care providers.

Yehia also added that the VA has been requiring HealthNet to travel across the country to meet with veterans and doctors to improve their appointment scheduling services and reduce wait times for veterans trying to get care outside of the VA.

“Veterans see Healthnet as the VA, and that isn’t helpful for the VA,” Tester added. “They really need to start flying right and that’s why I’m such a strong supporter of the Veterans’ First Act.”

Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is sponsoring the Veterans’ First Act, which will address some of the major challenges that veterans are having with the Veterans’ Choice Program.