(U.S. Senate) – The U.S. Senate today unanimously passed Senator Jon Tester’s bipartisan legislation to strengthen VA and community care for Montana’s nearly 100,000 veterans.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester crafted the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act to quickly expand the capacity of the VA to better serve veterans, and to provide emergency funding to the Choice Program. Tester’s legislation also allows the VA to move into a new larger clinic in Missoula.
“Montana veterans have told me over and over that they like the care they get at the VA, and when that care isn’t possible they want the option of seeing a private doctor,” said Tester. “This bill strikes a balance between strengthening VA care and ensuring the Choice Program doesn’t cause any more heartburn for Montana veterans. It’s a testament to what happens when Republicans and Democrats work together and I look forward to working with President Trump to sign one more bill into law.”
The bill also pulls several provisions from Tester’s Better Workforce for Veterans Act and does the following:
- Streamlines the hiring process for hard-to-fill positions.
- Expands a private-public sector partnership to foster innovation and better practices at the VA.
- Incentivizes former VA employees to come back to work at the VA after leaving for the private sector.
- Increases recruitment of talented students and recent graduates to work at the VA.
- Creates a VA-wide database for vacant and hard-to-fill positions.
- Strengthens training for human resources staff who are tasked with recruiting and hiring qualified medical professionals.
Tester’s bill also includes provisions from his DOCS for Veterans Act, which incentivizes Physician Assistants, one of the most chronically vacant, but highest demand, positions, to work at the VA.
Veterans and advocates praised the Tester-authored provisions to strengthen the VA’s workforce.
“The healthcare field is a highly competitive employment environment, and the Better Workforce for Veterans Act will ensure that the VA is able to go after and hire the best talent available,” said Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Montana Chapter. “We are deeply thankful for Senator Tester's continue efforts to expand and improve the workforce serving Montana's veterans.”
“Over 45,000 positions at the Department of Veterans Affairs are currently unfilled, including mission-critical clinical positions,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “These vacancies hinder the department’s service to our nation’s veterans, and the government’s outdated and inefficient personnel system makes them hard to fill. The VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 will give the VA better tools to recruit, hire and retain the talent it needs. I commend Senators Tester, Isakson, and McCain for their leadership and commitment to strengthen the department’s capacity to serve those who have served our nation.”
Veterans praised Tester’s work securing an expanded Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Missoula (CBOC).
“I’m a seventy-three year old Veteran with a few relatively minor service-connected disabilities, and I’ve been enrolled in VA healthcare for almost twenty years,” said Charles E. Abramson, Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel from Missoula. “For all of that time, I’ve seen the same internal medicine physician – whom I love – here at our small Missoula CBOC. Because of the clinic’s space restraints, from time to time I’ve sought some medical care elsewhere, sometimes personally paying for that care. Senator Tester’s bill will allow newly-eligible veterans to gain access to healthcare alongside the rest of us without any disruptions, and get us all in to our doctors in better time.”
“Montanans can take great pride that our own Senator Jon Tester continues to lead the way in the US Senate in ensuring the needs of our military veterans are being met in a responsive, caring and meaningful way,” said Don Loranger, retired Air Force Major General in Missoula. “His recent writing of a bill to strengthen the VA’s workforce and enable veterans to access health care close to home is a case in point. So too, this bills provisions for enhanced Missoula based Primary and Mental Health Care, and new Specialty Care services, are a very responsive to needs of our veterans’ community. Senator Tester has been relentless on improving care for our veterans—and it is working.”
Tester negotiated with Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Johnny Isakson, as well as House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe and Ranking Member Tim Walz, to craft the bill. It will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.
The President has also signed Tester’s Veterans Choice Improvement Act and his VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act into law. The Senate also passed Tester’s Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act tonight, and it’s expected to be signed into law in September.