At Hearing, Tester Presses VA Officials to “do better” and Connect More Veterans with Critical Mental Health Services

Chairman also took VA to task on damning Veterans Crisis Line oversight report


(U.S. Senate) — During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, Chairman Jon Tester called on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials to do “absolutely everything possible to connect more veterans with the mental health care and suicide prevention resources they need, no matter where they live.” He also pressed VA to address oversight issues brought up in a recent damning VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on the Veterans Crisis Line.

“Last week, a new IG report was released, raising more concerns with the Veterans Crisis Line,” said Chairman Tester. “The Veterans Crisis Line is a lifesaving resource for veterans, and it must be a top-performing entity within VA. But as made clear by recent IG reports, it’s not.”

Tester pushed Dr. Matthew Miller, the Executive Director for Suicide Prevention at the Veterans Health Administration, for updates on how VA is implementing key oversight provisions from his STRONG Veterans Act and how it’s executing the IG’s latest recommendations. Dr. Miller said VA has hired more Veterans Crisis Line responders and are reporting on two forms of silent monitoring and their progress to the OIG.

Highlighting his continued commitment to improving oversight of the Veterans Crisis Line, Tester said: “We demand excellence from the people in the VA, and people need to be held accountable. And I’m going to be following up with the [Inspector General] on this issue [this week].” The Chairman met with VA Inspector General Mike Missal today.

The Senator also called on Dr. Miller to expedite the rollout of a new telehealth access point grant program established under Tester’s landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act (Hannon Act). While the Hannon Act became law in 2020, VA does not expect to award grants for until 2025. Dr. Miller affirmed that VA is not happy with that timeline and is looking at options to expedite.

At the end of the first panel, Tester concluded: “This is really frustrating for me to say, but we’ve got to do better. We’ve just got to do better. This isn’t salable. It’s keeping people out of our military when we need more people in our military. It’s ruining lives, it’s ruining families, and so we all need to work together to make sure this happens.”

In the hearing’s second panel, the Committee heard from the Wounded Warrior Project and the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University stakeholders, who confirmed their support of the Chairman’s Not Just a Number Act.

Named for a Montana veteran who lost his life to suicide, Tester championed the Hannon Act in his capacity as the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to bolster VA’s mental health workforce and increase rural veterans’ access to care through alternative and local treatment options. Last year, Tester also championed the  Support The Resilience of Our Nation’s Great (STRONG) Veterans Act to strengthen veterans’ access to life-saving tools like the Veterans Crisis Line, expand mental health care options, and support mental health research at VA. 

Continuing his efforts to improve veterans’ access to mental health and suicide prevention services, the Senator is spearheading the bipartisan Not Just a Number Act to require VA to take a more comprehensive look at factors that best prevent veteran suicide, and the Making Community Care Work for Veterans Act to improve veterans’ access to lifesaving residential treatment programs for mental health and substance use disorder.