Tester Opening Statement on VFW Legislative Presentation

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Jon Tester today presided over a Joint Hearing of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans' Affairs to hear the 2019 legislative priorities of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

The following is Tester's opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. Lawrence, I’m honored to have you and the VFW leadership team with us today.  It’s good to see you again.

Where is my crew from Montana?  Thank you for being here.  

Mr. Lawrence, as I have said before, we’re here because Congress should take its cues from you.

You know better than anyone how the VA is performing across the country, and what improvements should be made on behalf of veterans and their families.

Listening to veterans shouldn’t simply be a courtesy from VA. It should be mandatory.

That is why we need to hear your views on whether VA is doing enough to address the unacceptable rate of veterans’ suicides. 

Or to provide justice to veterans exposed to toxins during their service – whether its Agent Orange or burn pits.

Or to address the gender disparities at VA and provide more equitable treatment of our women veterans.

Or to ensure all veterans have access to timely and high quality health care – whether they live in Big Sandy, Montana or Atlanta, Georgia.

We need to know whether VFW believes that implementation of the VA MISSION Act - the largest overhaul of veterans' health care in a generation - is being carried out as Congress intended and veterans deserve.

There is a very real concern – from the veterans’ community and Congress – that the recently proposed access standards will steer a disproportionate amount of veterans and taxpayer dollars into the private sector.

And, despite language in the MISSION Act, VA will not hold community providers to the same standards as VA providers.

So we could end up sending more veterans into their communities for lower quality care with longer wait times.

To top it off, nobody can tell us how many veterans will be impacted by these access standards or how much it will cost. 

All we know is that community care is more expensive than VA care, and that billions have been paid to Third Party Administrators that should have gone directly to improving the lives of veterans.  

VA refers to concerns about the hollowing-out of VA health care as “false and predictable”.  But everyone in this room knows they are very real.

Veterans deserve a lot more than that. They deserve the truth. And they deserve a system that works - a system that is built and improved with input from the VFW and others.

Mr. Lawrence, we’re here today to gather that input.

Welcome again – and thank you for all that you and your organization do on behalf of veterans and their families.