Four Tester Bills to Reform VA Gather Steam

(U.S. Senate) – The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today debated four bills authored by Ranking Member Jon Tester.

Tester’s legislation will address the crippling workforce shortages at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and will improve the delivery of health care and benefits for veterans.

Improving Veterans Access to Community Care Act

Tester’s Improving Veterans Access to Community Care Act builds off his previous work to reform the Choice Program by streamlining and consolidating the VA’s multiple community care programs, and by eliminating many of the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent veterans from accessing care in places like Montana.  Specifically, his bill will:

  • Give the VA the flexibility it needs in places like Montana to quickly provide veterans non-VA care when necessary.
  • Simplify the rules so that private health care providers are better able to serve veterans when the VA cannot.
  • Consolidate the VA's multiple community care programs into a single, efficient program with straightforward eligibility criteria and a single set of clinical and administrative systems.

Tester’s bill is the latest in a series of the Senator’s efforts to improve the Choice Program for veterans in Montana. It will be a starting point for bipartisan negotiations that aim to address the VA Choice Program’s funding shortfall and deficiencies.

The Better Workforce for Veterans Act

The bipartisan Better Workforce for Veterans Act will improve the VA’s ability to recruit qualified medical professionals to meet the healthcare needs of veterans while incentivizing employees to keep working at the VA. Tester’s bill will:

  • Improve the quality of personnel data for decision-making.  
  • Expand successful partnerships that bring recent graduates, veterans and private-sector employees to the VA.
  • Cut red tape to allow the VA to quickly hire medical professionals.
  • Provide funding and flexibility to hire dynamic regional and local VA leaders.
  • Hold leaders accountable for effective workforce management.

“We must empower the VA to hire the very best doctors, nurses and front line medical staff so this nation can live up to the promises we made to those who served,” said Tester. “Workforce shortages have plagued the VA all across this nation and fixing it requires putting politics aside to do right by Montana’s and America’s veterans.”

Tester’s bill is supported by the National Alliance for Mental Illness, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS, Reserve Officers Association, the American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Partnership for Public Service and the Commissioned Officers Association.

More information about the Better Workforce for Veterans Act can be found online HERE.

The Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act

Tester’s bipartisan Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act will hire an additional 50 Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists across the nation to work with the presiding judges of Veterans Treatment Courts to establish a structured rehabilitation program tailored to a veteran’s specific needs.

Montana has three Veterans Treatment Courts in Billings, Great Falls and Missoula. Currently, there are only two Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists to serve veterans across the state. 

“Veterans Treatment Courts do crucial work to make sure that veterans in the criminal justice system are getting specific and specialized assistance that they need to make a smooth transition back to civilian life,” said Tester. “This bipartisan bill will make sure that these treatment courts have the resources they need to serve Montana veterans.”

Great Falls District Judge Gregory Pinski, Billings District Judge Mary Jane Knisely and Missoula Standing Master Brenda Desmond support Tester’s bill. Pinski was in Washington today to meet with Tester about this legislation.

The Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act

The Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act will help ensure the VA is providing appropriate benefits and care for survivors of military sexual trauma. Tester’s bipartisan bill will:

  • Expand the definition of Military Sexual Trauma to ensure that service members and veterans who have experienced online sexual harassment are able to access VA counseling and benefits.
  • Codify VA policies that relax the burden of proof on survivors to access disability benefits for issues related to sexual trauma.
  • Requires military officials to educate active duty service members about VA services available for military sexual trauma survivors.

“The fact that anyone in uniform has to deal with sexual assault or harassment during the course of service to our country is unacceptable,” said Tester. “We owe it to every service member affected by these awful acts to ensure they have access to the best possible care and the benefits they need.”

This bill is supported by Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Military Officers Association of America.  

More information about today’s Committee hearing can be found online HERE