Tester Grills VA Secretary about the Future of the Choice Program
Senator to Secretary: You’re Still Responsible for Veterans Sent to the Private Sector
(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester today called on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin to bolster capacity at the VA while also ensuring a seamless experience in the private sector when veterans can’t get VA care.
“The VA is just as responsible when a veteran has a bad experience at their local civilian medical facility as they are if that veteran was at a VA hospital,” said Tester. “We can’t let the VA lose oversight of the quality of care that our veterans receive, regardless of where it is.”
The Choice Program is designed for veterans who live over 40 miles from a VA medical facility or have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment. In Montana, many rural veterans live hours from a VA facility.
With the Choice Program set to expire later this year, Tester has called for the VA to continue to be the primary coordinator and provider of veterans’ care, with an integrated network of community care providers ready to fill in the gaps, a proposal widely supported by veterans and advocates.
“Montana veterans aren’t clamoring for private sector care,” said Tester. “There is an important role for community care, but veterans’ health care is far too important to risk outsourcing it entirely to private providers, especially when we don’t know if they can absorb additional patients or provide specialized care that veterans often need.”
Tester recently met with veterans in Billings and Missoula to gather input about the Choice Program. Montana veterans’ experiences are critical in helping Tester 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.