Tester Presses Defense Officials on Fixing TRICARE Issues, Cutting Red Tape for Mental Health Providers at Oversight Hearing

Chairman also demanded answers on the U.S. Air Force’s Malmstrom Missileers investigation

U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, led a hearing today to evaluate the Department of Defense’s (DoD) health care program. During the hearing, Tester pressed DoD officials on TRICARE issues recently discussed at a roundtable he hosted with Montana servicemembers, veterans, and health care providers in Great Falls.

“I just had a town hall meeting in Montana on TRICARE,” said Tester. “Things were brought up…like providers that couldn’t get into the network. In Montana and across the country, providers are something we need more of, not fewer of. Who has oversight of making sure TriWest is bringing on the providers they need?”

“The oversight of the TRICARE health program is executed out of the Defense Health Agency [DHA], so that would be my responsibility…Working harder with TriWest is what I owe you and the team in Montana,” replied Lieutenant General Telita Crosland, Director of the DHA.

The Senator continued, stressing the importance of ensuring providers are in place: “I had providers there that had contracts with TRICARE, and I had ones that would like to get contracts with TRICARE that couldn’t…these were mental health providers. In a time where mental health is such a huge issue in this country, and we’re not bringing on as many folks as we can. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

As Chairman of both the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester has been ringing the alarm and aggressively pushing back on a series of challenges with the TRICARE network—the DoD program administered by DHA that delivers health care services for active duty servicemembers, Guard and Reserve members, military retirees, and their family members. Tester demanded DoD take swift action to safeguard access to earned benefits following a move to reduce the number of in-network pharmacies and led a bipartisan effort to proactively restore TRICARE benefits for 25,000 servicemembers, veterans, and their families who were wrongly removed from the system earlier last month.

During the hearing, Tester also questioned Lieutenant General Crosland and Lieutenant General Robert Miller, Surgeon General of the Air Force, on the DHA’s role in assisting the U.S. Air Force in its assessment of cancer reports among Air Force Missileers. Lieutenant General relayed that the DHA is “absolutely involved” in the investigation and stressed their commitment to working alongside the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the American Cancer Society.

Following recent reporting on the high incidence of cancer among Missileers who served at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Tester called for an immediate investigation of this potential toxic exposure(s) and urged senior leaders at DoD and VA to take action to ensure every potentially impacted veteran or servicemember is identified and receives a health assessment.