Tester Pushes VA for Updates on its First Research Site in Montana

Senator led the effort to press VA to establish its first VA research site in Montana to improve veterans’ health care; Montana was one of three states without a VA Research Site

(Big Sandy, Mont.) – Continuing his efforts to push for the delivery of a VA research site in Montana, U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today called on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for updates on the status of its research site in Montana. Last month, VA granted the VA Montana Health Care System approval to establish a VA research site in Montana—its first VA research site in the state.

“I write today in support of the continued expansion of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) research efforts in rural America, including the establishment of a new research site in Montana,” wrote Tester in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “…Despite having the second highest number of veterans per capita, Montana remains one of only three states without an operating ORD-funded research site. This has significantly limited access to clinical trials, new technologies, and deprived rural veterans of fair representation in VA research. Given this, I was greatly encouraged by the recent announcement that Montana had been granted “conditional approval” for a research site and hope this site will be established expeditiously.”

Tester pressed VA to give updates on the status of the Montana research site, including a timeline for the site’s establishment, its first project, and if its research will include mental health research. While VA announced the VA Montana Health Care System was selected for a research site last month, more details about the specific location and type of research are to follow as the Department continues its process to set up this new research site.

The Senator also highlighted the critical need for VA to conduct research in Montana to improve rural veterans’ health outcomes, citing how Montana veterans are more likely to experience mental health conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and to commit suicide.

Underscoring the importance of expanding veteran research in Montana and setting up the new site as quickly as possible, Tester wrote: “VA has…been the driving force behind many medical breakthroughs over the years. And when we support research in the veterans’ community, we see results that improve the lives of all Americans. Rural veterans, including those in Montana, must be included in research matters if VA intends to treat patients and address the unique challenges of individuals in these communities.”

As Chairman, Tester has been leading the effort to establish a VA research site in Montana. In a November 2023 hearing, he called on VA officials to establish a Montana VA research site to improve Montana veterans’ health care, stressing the importance of doing mental health research in rural America because the incidences of suicide are higher in rural states. Last month, VA answered his call and gave VA Montana approval to set up a research site.

VA research has been critical to developing effective tuberculosis treatments, inventing the CAT scan and pacemaker, and performing the first-ever liver transplant. It also continues to be critical to supporting toxic-exposed veterans under the PACT Act, improving women veterans’ health, and mental health care. The Department frequently highlights VA clinicians’ ability to do research as being key to helping the Department attract and retain high-quality providers.

A staunch proponent of improving veterans’ health care and mental health care through improved research, Tester championed the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act and provisions of the STRONG Veterans Act to expand research on veterans’ mental health conditions and treatment, especially in rural areas, in order to improve their care.

Read the Senator’s full letter HERE.