At Confirmation Hearing for VA’s #2 Official, Tester Urges Increased Transparency at VA

Senator calls for strong leadership from VA Deputy Secretary nominee James Byrne

(U.S. Senate) –  At today’s confirmation hearing for the VA’s Deputy Secretary nominee, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Jon Tester called for the VA to act in a more transparent and collaborative manner. Tester encouraged James M. Byrne, currently the Acting Deputy Secretary and former general counsel, to address the Department’s lack of transparency and reluctance to work collaboratively with related agencies and those tasked with independent oversight. Tester also called for increased suicide prevention efforts by the VA. 

Byrne was nominated for the second-highest leadership position at the VA on April 8. He has served as VA general counsel since August 2017 and was appointed acting deputy secretary in August 2018. 

“You come here not as a newly-nominated individual, but also a representative of the Department who has had a key role in the development and rollout of significant programs at the Agency,” Tester said. “I want to know what your role has been in implementing that law, and whether you believe the VA will be ready to go on June 6. The VA simply cannot continue treating its partners as adversaries and its key stakeholders as bystanders.”

Tester continued, “There are too many critical issues that require us all to work together. Whether it’s the epidemic of suicide that ends the lives of too many veterans every day, the ongoing struggle of veterans… I need to know that you are committed to priorities such as these, and that, at the end of the day, you have the temperament and judgment to do this job.” 

Tester has supported each of the 17 nominees who have come before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to serve veterans at the VA, Department of Labor, and as judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

He has led a bipartisan, bicameral call for more transparency of the VA's simultaneous roll-out of major bills like the VA MISSION Act and disability appeals modernization, while undertaking the largest health record modernization project in the nation's history. 

And he recently introduced landmark, bipartisan legislation to improve veterans' access to mental health care and make sure no more veterans are lost to suicide.

Tester’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is available to read HERE.