Tester, Bohlinger push for new VA facility, new jobs in Helena
Senator and Lieutenant Governor discuss proposal with VA Secretary
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester teamed up with Montana’s Republican lieutenant governor again today to push for a new VA facility in Helena that will could bring as many as 300 new jobs to Montana.
Tester and Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger met in Washington with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Shinseki, a four-star general and former Army Chief of Staff, took the top job at the VA in January.
Tester recently wrote the VA to request a new “Central Plains Consolidated Patient Account Center.” The center would house several administrative offices that are currently scattered across the region. Tester and Bohlinger want the new facility on the Fort Harrison campus near Helena.
“The most effective way to get things done is by opening the lines of communication and putting ideas on the table,” said Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “John and I did just that when we met with Secretary Shinseki. We told him we’re making good progress, but we still have a long way to go to live up to the promises made to our veterans.”
During today’s meeting with Shinseki, Tester and Bohlinger pushed a number of other priorities for Montana veterans, including:
- Establishing a new Vets Center. Currently Montana only has two Vets Centers, in Billings and Missoula. Tester and Bohlinger hope the VA will establish a third one in Montana. The center would be in Great Falls, which is home to a large population of veterans, Malmstrom Air Force Base, and the Montana Air National Guard.
- Establishing another community-based outpatient VA clinic. Tester and Bohlinger would like to see another clinic in northeastern Montana. Since taking office, Tester has helped secure three additional VA clinics in Montana. They are in Lewistown, Cut Bank and Havre.
- Using funding from the Jobs Bill to invest in new VA projects in Montana, such as the ongoing expansion of the VA clinic in Billings. The Jobs Bill, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, set aside $1 billion for VA construction.
Sen. Tester and Lt. Gov. Bohlinger also discussed the ongoing need to modernize health records, the need to provide housing for homeless veterans, and the need to establish an inpatient mental health care unit at Fort Harrison.
“Jon and I make a good team,” said Bohlinger, a former U.S. Marine. “We listen to Montana veterans and personally take their input to the VA Secretary. We’re working together to do what’s right for Montana’s veterans, and to make sure the VA hears our priorities firsthand.”
Last year, Tester and Bohlinger held a similar meeting with then-Secretary Jim Peake. Tester and Bohlinger also held listening sessions for veterans in several cities across Montana.
Tester’s recent letter to the VA asking for the new facility in Helena follows.
The Honorable Michael Kussman
Under Secretary for Health
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20420
Dear Dr. Kussman:
I write to express my strong support for locating the proposed Central Plains Consolidated Patient Account Center (CPAC) at the Fort Harrison VA Campus located in Helena, Montana.
The consolidation of numerous Veterans Health Administration administrative activities in one location has been shown to have great potential in delivering cost savings to the VA and improving the efficiency of health care services for our veterans. I applaud you for your efforts in that regard.
I am proud to share with you the fact that VA Montana has an established track record of successfully managing consolidated and centralized services. Currently VISN 19 operates two centralized administrative functions at VA Montana including the Network Accounts Receivable Unit (NARU) and the Network Non-VA Care Office (NAO). These programs, in operation for over 6 years, provide services similar to the CPAC mission. This existing core staff would provide a cadre to train new staff and minimize the effects of transition to the new model. The Montana Unit has benefited from an ability to recruit and retain competent and committed staff drawn from the Helena area.
Siting the CPAC in Helena will deliver value to the taxpayer. VA Montana has long been a leading employer in the community. In addition the pool of well educated and trained local candidates, Montana offers a high quality of life at a reasonable cost that would attract the staff being displaced at other facilities to relocate. Additionally, VA Montana has potential for identified quality lease sites and has considerable space at the Medical Center to build a new facility suitable for locating the Central Plains CPAC. This synergy will result in long-term savings to the taxpayers.
I hope that you will consider these factors when making your decision on where the Central Plains CPAC should be located. I look forward to following the progress of this project, as well as similar efforts in other parts of the country. I respectfully request that your office to be in contact with me regarding any significant developments in the Central Plains CPAC siting process.
Thank you again for your consideration of this important request.
United States Senator
Cc: Secretary Shinseki