Following VA Secretary Visit to Montana, Tester Thanks McDonough & Urges Follow Up Action on Challenges Facing Veterans

Chairman highlights needs of Montana veterans and families

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester is urging Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough to address a number of issues raised by Montana veterans and their families and community advocates following his visit to the Treasure State earlier this month.

“I was pleased to host you during your recent trip to Montana, and greatly appreciated your willingness to travel the state and hear directly from veterans, family members, Department of Veterans Affairs staff and community advocates about the issues most important to them,” wrote Tester. “I was impressed by your professionalism and candor, as well as your knowledge of a wide variety of issues, and believe those traits will serve you well during your tenure as Secretary. Today, I write to share a number of items that were brought to our attention in Montana, and to request that you consider action to address each of them.”

As a key leader on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for over a decade, Tester has been a longtime champion for securing benefits and care for veterans and families across the state. In his letter, Tester outlined the following five areas in need of attention from VA to better meet the needs of Montanans who served:

  • Improving Community Care Appointment Timeliness and Assessing Adequacy of Dental Network – Wait times for community care facilitated through the Montana VA Health Care System continue to be a chief concern among veterans across the state. Tester is pushing VA to prioritize hiring and retention of support staff in order to address long wait times and reduce the backlog of appointments exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To address low reimbursement rates for veteran dental services and limited provider participation in the dental network, the Senator is also directing VA to assess adequacy of its TriWest contract.
  • Meeting Veterans’ Mental Health Care Needs – For former servicemembers and veterans who are eligible for mental health care services at VA, the issue of wait times endures. Tester is pressing VA to implement lifesaving provisions under his landmark Hannon Act and take additional steps to expand mental health care services for veterans.
  • Creating Facilities Where Veterans and Staff Can Thrive – For years, VA Montana’s health care facilities have lacked suitable WiFi for staff to connect their laptops and tablets to the internet while delivering care. Tester is continuing to push VA to accelerate the WiFi upgrades for Montana’s health care facilities to better serve veterans and staff. He’s also doubling down on his effort to have VA commit resources to assist with the rehabilitation of the Miles City campus as part of its relocation.
  • Amplifying the Voices of Native Veterans – Native Veterans serve their country at a higher rate per capita than any other demographic and have done so for decades, yet they utilize their earned benefits at the lowest rate of any demographic. To ensure Native Veterans have a voice in their claims process and on the national level as policies are made, Tester is calling on VA to increase collaboration with tribal organizations and involve Native Veteran advocates in policymaking processes.
  • Prioritizing Care for the Whole Veteran – When veterans in rural states like Montana take advantage of Veteran Transportation Service programs to travel to and from their medical appointments, they frequently lack access to meals for many hours. Tester is pushing VA to work toward long-term, permanent guidance for VA facilities nationwide to ensure no veteran traveling long distances goes hungry.

In his capacity as the new Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester brought McDonough to Montana to meet firsthand with veterans, VA employees, Veterans Service Organizations, local health care providers, officials, and members of the media on his first official trip as Cabinet Secretary. Over the course of three days, they hosted multiple listening sessions and VA facility tours in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, and Helena.

Read Tester’s full letter to the Secretary HERE.