Tester Confronts VA Officials Over Failure to Address Barriers to Care

Ranking Member: Workforce Shortages are Killing the VA

(U.S. Senate) - U.S. Senator Jon Tester today confronted top VA officials over their lack of progress in bringing more doctors and nurses to VA facilities in Montana and increasing veterans' timely access to care.

Tester has fought to get the VA the tools and resources it needs to hire and retain a strong medical workforce, but reports from local doctors indicate that the VA isn't using the tools it's been given. After pointing out that funding provided to the VA has more than doubled in the last decade, he questioned how seriously the Department is taking the crippling workforce shortages in Montana during a hearing before the Appropriations Subcommittee responsible for funding the VA.

"Can you tell me what's being done?" said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "We've given you more resources. We've passed several bills in the last year to get you guys rolling. Can you tell me what you're doing for these shortages, because they're killing the VA?"

Tester confronted VA officials on why the VA is reporting that Montana facilities are nearly fully staffed with providers, but local clinicians still report they are fully booked and must send new patients to private providers.

"We've got four community clinics that only have access to telehealth care. We've got a lot of veterans walking through the door who are getting general appointments taken care of by telehealth care, even at Fort Harrison. There aren't enough private providers or clinicians to support veterans, especially on the mental health side of things," said Tester.

Tester introduced the bipartisan Better Workforce for Veterans Act to bring more medical professionals to the VA. Provisions from his bill were signed into law as a part of Tester's VA Choice and Quality Employment Act, which expanded the capacity of the VA to better care for veterans.

Tester also introduced the Stronger Medical Workforce for Veterans Act to identify underserved VA facilities and create incentives to bring more medical professionals to those facilities, which are often in rural areas like Montana. Provisions from this and several Tester-authored bills were included in the bipartisan and bicameral VA MISSION Act, which recently passed the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. Tester pushed for inclusion of these provisions after hearing from doctors and nurses in Montana that the VA needed more help to incentivize providers to join and stay with the VA in Montana.

Today's hearing of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs was to consider the President's 2019 VA budget request. More information on today's hearing can be found online HERE.