Senator Jon Tester is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to choose Montana as a location for its recently announced mental health care initiative.
The VA, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, will soon select 15 locations across the country to participate in the initiative that will make mental health care more accessible to rural veterans. The VA will contract with local community health centers and mental health clinics to expand care and reduce waiting lists for rural veterans.
Tester, Montana's only member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, helped establish the new mental health initiative. He is now working to ensure that Montana, home to country's second-highest veterans' population per person, receives one of the pilot projects.
"As you establish these 15 sites around the nation, I encourage you to look toward Montana, where many of our veterans are living in frontier communities where access to mental health care is lacking or absent," Tester wrote VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
"Far too many veterans are so discouraged by the complexities involved in accessing mental health care that they forgo treatment altogether," said Tester, who noted that rural veterans are forced to pay more for needed care. "A pilot site would mean a great deal to Montana veterans and their families."
Tester, who recently announced a new grant to improve telehealth services for rural veterans, got the VA and Health and Human Services to increase access to care through local clinics and health centers last month after calling for the change earlier this year.
Tester's roadmap to improve rural veterans' health care also requires the departments to plan a rural mental health recruitment drive to boost the number of mental health providers in rural areas - something Tester has long championed to help Montana veterans.