Tester, Veterans of Foreign Wars Call for More VA Collaboration

VFW Present 2019 Legislative Priorities to Congress

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester and Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander-in-Chief Vincent “B.J.” Lawrence today were in lockstep that the VA must consult organizations like the VFW when they are implementing reforms that will impact millions of veterans.

Ahead of today’s hearing, Tester also met with Montana VFW members Tom Johnson, Tim Peters, Joe Fletcher, Art and Marilyn Widhalm, Mel Kieninger, and Tom Pouliot.

“Mr. Lawrence, as I have said before, we’re here because Congress should take its cues from you,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “You know better than anyone how the VA is performing across the country, and what improvements should be made on behalf of veterans and their families. Listening to veterans shouldn’t simply be a courtesy from VA. It should be mandatory.”

“The VFW has provided substantive feedback and helped develop how America cares for her veterans since even before the Veterans Administration was created in 1930,” said Lawrence. “VA executive leadership should be embarrassed that they have discounted VA’s collaborative relationship with the VFW and chosen to make arbitrary decisions without consulting with those who most intimately understand VA’s mission and the needs of the veterans community.”

Tester urged the VA to rely on the VFW and other VSOs in its efforts to reduce the rate of veteran suicide, honor veterans exposed to Agent Orange and burn pits, improve VA care for women veterans, and ensure veterans have access to timely and quality health care across the nation.

Tester also asked if the VA had consulted the VFW before its recent announcement on community care access standards.

“We can outsource the service, but we can’t outsource the responsibility. Would the VFW support expansion into the community if it meant reductions in quality or timeliness?” Tester asked.

“There should never be a reduction in quality or timeliness when it comes to serving our nation’s veterans,” Lawrence replied.

“Were you consulted on the development of the VA’s proposed wait time and drive time standards?” Tester continued.

Lawrence replied, “No sir, we weren’t.”

“If you had been consulted, would you have had input?” Tester asked.

“We would have had a whole lot of input,” Lawrence replied.

Tester’s full opening statement to the VFW delegation can be found HERE. More information about today’s hearing with the VFW can be found HERE.

The VFW’s hearing is the third in a series of joint Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings in which the nation’s leading Veterans Service Organizations will deliver their 2019 legislative priorities to Congress. Tomorrow seven VSOs will present their priorities on how VA can help improve the lives of America’s veterans and their families. Information about that hearing can be found online HERE.