Tester Hears From Montana Veterans About the VA Choice Program

Senator Holds Listening Session in Billings on the Future of Veterans Choice Program

(Billings, Mont.) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is meeting this week with Montana veterans, advocates and health care providers to discuss the future of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Choice Program and how it can be improved for Montana veterans.

Tester today addressed a crowd of veterans in Billings, calling for reforms to the program that allows veterans to seek health care outside the VA as the Choice Program’s funds are set to expire later this year.

“We need a dramatic revamp of the VA’s community care programs,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Veterans have made it clear to me that when the VA can’t deliver the care they need, they want the Choice Program to work better so their community care experience is seamless. That’s why we need to make reforms that will reduce wait times and ensure veterans are getting the care they earned.”

After hearing from Billings-area providers and patients, Tester warned against sending veterans to the private sector without assessments to determine if the community can provide the specialized care for additional veteran patients.

Tester also heard from providers who aren’t getting paid by the VA in a timely fashion under the Choice Program. Veterans noted the difficulties they have while trying to schedule a doctor’s appointment through government contractors like Health Net. Tester recently pushed VA Montana to schedule appointments for veterans directly. As a result of Tester’s actions, veterans will soon be able to schedule appointments with their local doctor directly through VA Montana.

Earlier this year, Tester stood with President Trump as the President signed Tester’s bipartisan bill to improve the Choice Program in Montana. Tester noted it was an important first step in revamping the community care program for Montana veterans. Tester is now working with Republican Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Johnny Isakson to draft bipartisan legislation that will reform the Choice Program to ensure it is delivering timely, quality health care for veterans who can’t get the care they need at the VA.

Joining Tester were veterans Ed Saunders, Sue Davidson and Ortho Montana CEO Roy Strong, Care Coordinator from St. Vincent Health Care Cancer Center Jessica Mitchell and Eastern Montana VA Deputy Director Kirby Ostler.

Tester will hold another listening session to hear from veterans and health care providers in Missoula on Wednesday, May 31, at 9:00 a.m. MST.