(U.S. Senate)—Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester today announced that, at his request, VA Secretary David Shulkin will be sending a team of experts to VA Montana to review staffing shortages, improve scheduling, and address the backlog of referrals for care within or outside of the VA (called “consults”).
Tester has been pushing the VA to address the backlog of pending consults. At Tester’s request, the VA’s Inspector General launched an investigation and published a report with recommendations on how to reduce wait times for Montana veterans.
After hearing that VA has not taken appropriate steps to substantially reduce the consult backlog, Tester spoke with Secretary Shulkin and received assurance that a team of experts will be deployed to VA Montana to address the situation, and that additional staff will be hired to assist in those efforts.
“Staffing shortages have been plaguing the VA for years, and if you compound that with the Trump Administration’s hiring freeze, it makes it nearly impossible to reduce wait times and backlogs in places like Montana,” said Tester. “That’s why I demanded the VA bring in an outside team of experts to scrub the process and ensure that the VA is addressing this situation once and for all. I urge VA Montana leadership to keep their shoulders to the wheel and ensure that veterans aren’t experiencing delays in care.”
Tester is in the process of negotiating a bipartisan bill with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) to overhaul the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to seek care outside the VA. All the major veterans service organizations have urged Tester not to use this as an opportunity to privatize the VA because they like the care they receive at the VA once they get in the door.