Tester: Improve rural veterans’ access to care

Senator also questions panel about recruiting VA doctors to rural areas

(U.S. SENATE) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today seized an opportunity to highlight health care hurdles for rural veterans and the need to better recruit and retain doctors in rural states like Montana.

Tester, during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs hearing on the lifetime costs of America’s newest generation of veterans, said that veterans’ services can improve if the VA does its job from the beginning.

“I think that lifetime costs are huge, but I think intervention in the beginning can save money and make quality of life better for our veterans,” Tester said. “It seems like a lot of the problems stem from access, a lot of the problems stem from education.  It’s particularly difficult in rural America.”

Paul Rieckhoff, the Executive Director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, agreed with Tester and said that the government needs to think more creatively about using partnerships and technology to increase health care access for veterans in rural areas.

“Involving communities and leveraging technology especially is how you can get to those folks where they have decent access to the internet,” Rieckhoff said.  “It gives you tremendous opportunity for innovation and impact.”

Tester introduced The Veterans Telehealth Act of 2011 in May to waive copayments for telehealth and telemedicine visits for veterans.  The legislation would save the VA money by bringing services to a patient’s home or local clinic via telephone or other technology.

Tester helped bring VA telehealth offices to Hamilton and Plentywood last year.

Tester also had the opportunity to question witnesses about the best ways for the VA to attract and keep quality doctors and surgeons in rural states like Montana.  The VA in Montana has been searching for an orthopedic surgeon for several months, forcing veterans to travel out of state for vital care.

“There are 400 veterans on a waitlist now that’s approaching two years for orthopedic surgeries,” Tester said.  “It is completely unacceptable.”

Tester is a powerful advocate for Montana veterans and Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  He recently secured a dozen VA vans to transport Montana veterans in rural and frontier areas to health care facilities.

Video of Tester during today’s hearing is online HERE.