Tester Opening Statement on DAV Legislative Presentation

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Jon Tester today presided over a Joint Hearing of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans' Affairs to hear the 2019 legislative priorities of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

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

Good afternoon.

Commander Nixon, I’m honored to have you and your leadership team with us today. 

You are very well-served by your legislative staff in DC.  I can’t tell you how much my staff and I rely on their advice and perspective.

I’d like to recognize Joe Parsetich, the 3rd Junior Vice Commander of DAV from my home state of Montana.  Joe, thank you for your work on behalf of veterans in Montana and nationwide. 

Commander, as I have said before, Congress should take its cues from you.  

VSOs know better than anyone how the VA is performing across the country, and what improvements should be made on behalf of veterans and their families.

Concerns from DAV and others about a lack of transparency and engagement from VA should be alarming to everyone.

After all, your members are beneficiaries of VA health care and utilize VA programs every single day. 

Listening to veterans shouldn’t simply be a courtesy from VA. It should be mandatory.

Commander, we need to hear your views on how VA can address its dramatic number of personnel vacancies.

On the gender disparities at VA and what can be done to provide more equitable treatment of our women veterans.

On whether VA is doing enough to address the unacceptable rate of veterans’ suicides.

And on whether the long-awaited expansion of VA’s caregiver support program will occur on-time, or be hindered by more IT-related problems.

But most importantly, we need to know whether you believe implementation of the VA MISSION Act - the largest overhaul of veterans’ health care in a generation - is being carried out as Congress intended and veterans deserve.

I would note that the Independent Budget cites implementation of the MISSION Act as the single most important issue for the 116th Congress.

There is a very real concern – from the veterans’ community and Congress – that the recently proposed access standards will steer a disproportionate amount of veterans and taxpayer dollars into the private sector.

And, despite language in the MISSION Act, it is clear that VA does not intend on holding community providers to the same standards as VA providers.

So we will end up sending more veterans into their communities for lower quality care while being unable to ensure they get it in a timely manner.

To top it off, nobody can tell us how many veterans will ultimately be impacted by these access standards or how much it will cost. 

All we know is that community care is more expensive than VA care, and that billions have been paid to Third Party Administrators that should have gone directly to improving the lives of veterans.  

VA refers to concerns about the hollowing-out of VA health care as “false and predictable” but everyone in this room knows they are very real.

Veterans deserve a lot more than that. They deserve the truth. And they deserve a system that works - a system that is built and improved with input from the DAV and others.

Commander Nixon, we’re here today to gather that input.

Welcome again – and thank you for all that you and your organization do on behalf of disabled veterans and their families.