Tester introduces new plan to improve access to health care for rural veterans

Senator’s legislation would create assistance center, stronger VA partnerships with local health care providers

(U.S. SENATE) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester has introduced a new bill to make quality health care more accessible to veterans who live in rural states like Montana.

Tester’s bill, the Rural Veterans Health Care Assistance Act, would establish the Rural Veterans Health Care Technical Assistance Center.  The center would provide private health care providers in rural communities with information, education and technical assistance to improve services for veterans.  The legislation also allows the VA to partner more effectively with rural hospitals and clinics.

Tester says his bill is necessary because there currently is no dedicated point of contact for rural health care providers who work with veterans and the VA health care system.

“Montana’s rural health care providers work tremendously hard for our veterans and it’s important to me that they are never left in the dark,” Tester said.  “This bill gives important tools to rural health care providers so they can more effectively work with the VA, and to make sure rural veterans have better access to the care they’ve earned.”

Tester noted that veterans who live in rural or frontier communities comprise more than 40 percent of veterans enrolled in the VA Health Care System.

Tester’s bill would ensure that health care providers in rural areas know the best ways to contact and work with the VA in order to put their knowledge of rural health care to good use. 

Jim Ahrens, of Craig, Mont., a former Montana Hospital Association director who has extensive experience dealing with the VA, says Tester’s bill is a big step forward when it comes to improving veterans’ care.

“Senator Tester should be commended for this forward thinking and innovative piece of legislation,” Ahrens said.  “Linking different health care services and systems is a time consuming process that requires special negotiating skills and knowledge of the way private health care systems and the VA health care system function.  The Center would provide the on-the-ground expertise which allow for the linkages to take place.”

Tester is urging the VA to consider sites in Montana for the new assistance center.

Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, earlier this month pushed the VA to expand care to Priority 8 veterans.  His landmark Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act allowed the VA to provide mental health care to recent veterans through private mental health care providers.

Tester’s bill is online HERE.