Tester Steps up Fight to Bring More VA Doctors to Rural Montana

Senator Introduces Bill to Incentivize Medical Staff to Work in Frontier America

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester introduced legislation to recruit more medical professionals to serve rural veterans and to help fill the 45,000 vacancies at VA facilities across the country.

Tester’s Stronger Medical Workforce Act establishes a list of underserved VA facilities using criteria like the ratio of veterans to health care providers in a certain geographic area. It offers student loan assistance and full tuition reimbursement to doctors and medical students who work at those facilities and expedites their hiring.

“Rural veterans shouldn’t be forced to drive great distances for their health care,” said Tester. “That’s why I introduced this bill, to bring more VA doctors to rural and underserved veterans. My bill will help fix a chronic problem the VA has in Montana and all across frontier America: a shortage of medical professionals.”

The Stronger Medical Workforce Act requires the VA to identify impediments and challenges to filling vacancies and craft a plan to fill them. Under Tester’s bill, the VA and the Surgeon General will work together to assign at least 500 commissioned Public Health Service Officers to VA facilities.

Tester’s bill also allows clinical staff working at Vet Centers to participate in the VA’s education debt reduction program.

Tester recently called on VA Secretary David Shulkin to come up with a list of new ideas to improve how the VA is addressing medical and clinical vacancies in Montana. That list is not yet complete.

Tester also introduced the Caring for Our Veterans Act, which incentivizes medical residents and providers to work at rural, tribal and underserved VA facilities and deploys mobile teams to provide additional care at VA facilities that need it.

Tester has already made progress on improving the VA workforce. Provisions of Tester’s Better Workforce for Veterans Act were signed into law as a part of Tester’s bipartisan legislation to strengthen VA and community care. His law streamlines the hiring process for hard-to-fill positions and includes a number of recruitment and retention initiatives to bring and keep medical professionals at the VA.