Tester Opening Statement for Hearing on Disabled American Veterans Legislative Priorities

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, today presided over a Joint Hearing of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans' Affairs to hear the legislative priorities of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

The following is Tester's opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon everyone.  DAV and Auxiliary members, welcome and thank you for travelling from every corner of the country to be here today.  This is the first in a series of joint House and Senate VSO hearings. 

Commander Riley, I’m honored to have you and your leadership team with us today.  I’d like to recognize Joe Parsetich, Commander of Montana DAV.  Joe, thank you for all the work you do on behalf of veterans in Montana. 

We’re here because Congress should take its cues from you.   DAV provides a critical perspective on how veterans are affected by VA policies.  

We hold these hearings because only VSOs—and not partisan political groups or pundits on cable—can help Congress focus its oversight and legislative efforts to ensure veterans have access to quality care and befefits.  That means taking cues from you on how to:

•           Hold VA accountable;

•           Ensure VA has the capacity to meet the needs of all veterans, and

•           Fix Choice and Community care.

On this last point, I’m pleased to note that your written testimony highlights how there’s agreement among all major stakeholders on a path forward.

Rather than just giving a veteran a card to seek care in the private sector—which, by the way, has largely been a disaster in Montana—the path forward is an integrated network of VA and community providers. 

This means VA should continue to serve as the coordinator AND primary provider of care, while the private sector fills gaps. 

So I am hopeful that we acknowledge the broad agreement among the folks in this room and others who use VA, and take some meaningful steps to fix the Choice program before extend or expand the program. 

I commend DAV’s campaign [“Setting the Record Straight”] to educate policymakers, veterans, and the public about the best way to strengthen and reform veterans’ healthcare.   I encourage all of my colleagues, and the folks watching from home, to see DAV’s short video [“Putting Choice in Context”] exploring the unrealistic visions of “choice” options. 

Commander Riley, again welcome.  Let me close with a final reference to your testimony: In your written testimony you mention that VA is, and I quote, “a national treasure and an essential resource for millions of veterans, particularly disabled veterans, who choose and rely on VA for all or most of their healthcare.  It’s a not a perfect healthcare system; there is no perfect healthcare system.”

Well said Commander.  In my book, DAV is a national treasure.

Now, let me read a statement by my Chairman and friend, Johnny Isakson, who’s recovering from surgery:

Welcome to the hundreds of DAV members and Auxiliary members in attendance and a special welcome to those who traveled to Washington from Georgia. 

I regret that I am unable to attend the hearing today.  On February 20th, I was admitted to Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, for a scheduled operation on my back to address spinal deterioration.

Per my doctor’s orders, I am at home recovering the rest of this week before returning to Washington.  I look forward to returning with a new and improved back to continue working harder than ever on behalf of veterans.

As I said at Secretary Shulkin’s confirmation hearing, we’re about making health care more available to veterans through care in both the private sector and VA.  We don’t want to privatize VA.  We want to empower it. 

I look forward to working collaboratively with you and other stakeholders to help improve the care and services for our veterans. 

I hope Johnny the best during his recuperation.  

Commander Riley, I’m looking forward to hearing from your testimony and to collaborating with every Member of Congress to keep faith with our veterans.