During Hearing, Tester Underscores VA’s Role in Delivering Veterans Quality Health Care: ‘No ifs, ands, or buts’

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee considers 18 pending bills, including Chairman’s legislation to strengthen the Veterans Crisis Line, expand high-quality breast cancer screening, and support MST survivors

During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing today to consider 18 pending bills, Chairman Jon Tester solicited feedback from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and underscored its role in helping Congress advance critical legislation to improve veterans’ health care nationwide.

Responding to various legislative concerns highlighted by VA officials at the hearing, Tester said: “I’m all with working with the Department to ensure we have a bill that’s workable. If it’s not workable, you can’t implement it and it’s unfair to do that. On the same side of the coin, our job is to make sure there is oversight that you’re doing the job.”

Tester continued, “MST [military sexual trauma] is a massive issue within the VA. And I will tell you I’ve worked with members on this Committee—including the Ranking Member—on all these bills, and if they put you in a bad situation where it’s going to limit your ability to provide benefits to veterans, we don’t want to do that. What we want to do is hold you accountable, so we can make sure that you’re going to continue being the leader in health care for veterans in this nation. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.”

During the hearing, the Committee solicited feedback from VA officials and stakeholders on 18 pending bills, including the following six bills backed by Tester:

  • Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act—Bipartisan, bicameral legislation to strengthen the Veterans Crisis Line’s staff training, management, and response to high-risk veteran callers at risk of suicide.
  • Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options (MAMMO) for Veterans Act—Bipartisan, bicameral legislation requiring VA to develop a strategic plan to improve breast imaging services, create a telemammography pilot program for veterans in areas where VA does not offer in-house mammography, and expand veterans’ access to clinical trials through partnerships with the National Cancer Institute.
  • Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act of 2021—Bipartisan, bicameral bill to address longstanding MST claims processing issues and expand MST health care and counseling at VA to former members of the Guard and Reserve.
  • Fiscal Year 2022 Veterans Affairs Major Medical Facility Authorization Act—Bipartisan legislation authorizing several VA construction projects to serve veterans for fiscal year 2022.
  • Vet Center Improvement Act of 2021—Bicameral legislation mandating recommendations from a Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation requested by Senators Tester and Reed, and requiring VA to evaluate productivity expectations for readjustment counselors at Vet Centers in order to assess the impact of these expectations on the welfare of counselors and on the care provided to veterans.
  • Veterans’ Prostate Cancer Treatment and Research Act—Bipartisan legislation to improve how VA treats and conducts research into prostate cancer, which is the most frequently diagnosed cancer by the Veterans Health Administration.

The Committee also considered and sent to the full Senate for consideration the nominations of Guy T. Kiyokawa to be Assistant Secretary of Enterprise Integration and James D. Rodriguez to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans’ Employment and Training. At a nomination hearing earlier this month, Tester questioned both nominees on their qualifications to serve in these roles.