Ranking Member Tester Holds Hearing on “State of the VA” with Secretary Wilkie
Senator Raises Concerns About VA’s Lack of Communications and Transparency with Veterans
Ranking Member Jon Tester today questioned VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in Wilkie’s first appearance before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee as Secretary.
Wilkie appeared on Capitol Hill to report on the state of the VA after his first 60 days as Secretary.
“Mr. Secretary, as you highlighted in your testimony, ‘This is not business as usual,’” said Tester. “Because the stakes are so high, collaboration and partnerships are more critical than ever. In my opinion, it looks as if the VA is disengaging with stakeholders when it should be engaging more than ever, and becoming less transparent when it should be more transparent.”
In a meeting yesterday, Veterans Service Organizations told Tester they were alarmed at the VA’s lack of communication about the implementation of reforms that these organizations, the VA, and Congress worked together to craft.
“I visit with the Veterans Service Organizations all the time and yesterday was no exception,” said Tester. “I visited with a number of them to hear their concerns. Overall they expressed alarm over what they perceive as increasing disengagement with them in several areas. I’ve said this many times – we take our cues from the Veterans Service Organizations, from veterans. As we implement the VA MISSION Act and as veterans are going to utilize it, they need to be a part of the equation.”
Tester was encouraged by Wilkie and Republican Chairman Johnny Isakson’s commitment to finding a path forward on the bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which expands presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to veterans who served just offshore Vietnam. More than 30 military and veterans’ organizations representing millions of veterans have endorsed this legislation. He also praised the VA for sharing stories of VA employees who are making a difference for veterans.
“We don’t hear enough about the good things the Agency does day-in and day-out,” said Tester. “There is a reason why thousands of men and women across the country work tirelessly every single day to provide veterans with the health care, benefits or services they’ve earned. And there is a reason why an overwhelming number of veterans prefer to get their care from the VA. The VA means a great deal to these folks. And it means a great deal to this country.”
Before the hearing, Tester asked veterans on social media what questions they would ask Wilkie using #AskWilkie. Questions that weren’t asked today will be sent to the VA for response. To see some of those questions and answers, follow along on Facebook and Twitter at @SVACDems.