Knowing that Montana's rural veterans can be difficult to reach, Senator Jon Tester today pushed the Department of Veterans Affairs to explore more ways to make sure veterans get the care and services they have earned.
Tester, a strong advocate for Montana's veterans, told VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers that expanding partnerships between the VA and local health providers will help the VA support more rural veterans.
"At a time when federal agencies are attempting to do more with less, it only makes sense to work more collaboratively with local partners, non-profits and the private sector," Tester said. "We've got a lot of folks out there that are willing to help and we have a lot of challenges - we have to get the folks willing to help engaged in the process."
Tester pushed Sowers to name initiatives launched with various community groups to expand veterans' care and services. Sowers highlighted the VA's work with multiple veterans service organizations, as well as the expansion of Mobile Vet Centers.
Tester, Montana's only member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, is a strong proponent of Vet Centers, urging the VA to bring more Vet Centers - including mobile centers - to Montana and securing travel reimbursement for rural veterans receiving treatment at Vet Centers.
Tester's hearing today comes on the heels of his recent efforts to push the VA to improve work with volunteer groups and to enlist local health providers to support veterans with mental health issues.
Tester soon will introduce a bill that lifts the VA's cap on student loan repayments and extends an initiative that offers scholarships for health care providers who choose to work for the VA. The bill aims to encourage more doctors and other care providers to work for the VA and to help address the staffing challenges faced by VA facilities in rural areas.