(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester today grilled VA Secretary Robert Wilkie about the VA’s proposed 2020 budget.
Tester questioned Wilkie over his concern that the VA’s budget request does not prioritize efforts to improve VA care through investments in medical personnel and infrastructure, and may shortchange critical Information Technology (IT) efforts required to effectively implement recent major reforms - including the VA MISSION Act, Forever G.I. Bill, and electronic health record modernization.
“In my view, the level of commitment from Congress to address health care vacancies and critical infrastructure needs at VA has not been matched by the Department,” Tester said. “I have clinics in Montana with no doctors, no advanced clinicians, and where care is only provided through telehealth. So you get my frustration – that VA’s primary focus seems to be expanding eligibility and investments into community care, often at the expense of capacity-building initiatives.”
Tester continued, noting that while VA officials state the VA needs $60 billion in funds to address construction needs over the next five years, that need is not reflected in its budget request.
“I’ve talked about vacancies in Montana, Senator Manchin has talked about vacancies in West Virginia, Senator Blumenthal about West Haven,” said Tester. “And then I look at your budget request. If you guys have $60 billion in construction infrastructure needs over the next five years but you’re reducing those same accounts by 40 and 50 percent, something doesn’t jive.”