(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester today demanded answers from VA Secretary David Shulkin about how the VA is implementing several recently passed laws and addressing workforce shortages in Montana that are plaguing the VA’s ability to provide timely care and benefits.
After passage of Tester’s workforce bill which cut red tape to fill VA clinical positions, Tester grilled Shulkin over the VA’s efforts to hire medical staff and demanded additional steps from the VA to specifically address shortages in Montana. He also noted the lasting impact of the unpopular federal hiring freeze on veterans. There are currently more than 35,000 vacancies at the VA, many of which continue to be impacted by Shulkin’s extension of the hiring freeze.
“Workforce shortages in Montana have become a crisis,” said Tester. “I need a commitment from you that by the end of the week, I want a list of at least five specific things the VA is going to do – above and beyond what you’re currently doing – to address medical and clinical vacancies in my state. Can you do that?”
Tester also pushed Shulkin to support the bipartisan Caring for Our Veterans Act, which scraps the Choice Program and replaces it with one easy-to-use community care program.
Despite that, Shulkin has yet to publicly endorse the bill.
Over the course of the last year, the VA has come to Congress twice with requests for emergency funds for the Choice Program. Following two bills signed into law that reformed the Choice Program and ensured veterans would not be cut off from their health care, Tester wrote the Caring for Our Veterans Act to hold the VA accountable to veterans and taxpayers by requiring stricter VA reporting on its spending.
“The Caring for Our Veterans Act checks all of the boxes that you have said you need checked when it comes to community care reform, but you haven’t publicly endorsed it,” Tester said. “I believe this bill would have been passed by now if we had had your support.”
Tester also asked about efforts being made to make the VA more accessible to women veterans.
More information about today’s hearing entitled ‘The State of the VA: A Progress Report on Implementing 2017 VA Reform Legislation’ can be found online HERE.
Before the hearing, Tester asked veterans on social media what questions they would ask Secretary Shulkin using #AskShulkin. Questions that weren’t asked today will be sent to the VA for response. To see some of those questions and answers, follow along on Facebook and Twitter at @SVACDems.