MTPR

Veterans Administration

Secretary of the Veterans Administration David Shulkin at an event in Helena, MT August 21, 2017.
Eric Whitney

The Secretary of the Veterans Administration visited Montana today, and made an announcement that many veterans will welcome.

At an event in Helena, Senator Jon Tester let the news slip before Secretary David Shulkin had a chance to.

"The VA Secretary is going to announce at some point in time today — I don't want to take away any of your thunder – some rules that he is going to modify to allow rest homes to be built in rural areas. The Butte boys that are here ..."

Senator Jon Tester listens to Barb Korenberg from Missoula Skin Care Center at a veterans health care forum in Missoula Wednesday, May 31, 2017.
Eric Whitney

The Veterans health system in Montana is preparing to roll out a new effort aimed at fixing problems with the troubled “Veterans Choice” program.

Choice, launched by Congress in 2014, was supposed to help vets who live far from from VA facilities, or who have waited more than 30 days for care, get appointments in the private sector faster. It has been called a failure by many, although some vets have reported that Choice has improved their care.

It's a fix that hasn't fixed much, but the troubled Veterans Choice program has been extended anyway.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed a bill extending the program intended to speed veterans' access to health care beyond its original August end point.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Veterans Choice, file photo.
Courtesy Veterans Administration

Senator Jon Tester says he'll push for an extension of the troubled Veterans Choice healthcare program on the Senate floor Thursday.

Tester is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. He co-sponsored the original, bi-partisan Veterans Choice bill in 2014. It was a $10 billion response to revelations that some veterans were being harmed by having to wait for long periods to get healthcare through the VA.

Montana's Republican Senator Steve Daines held what he called a “tele-town hall meeting” Wednesday night. His political opponents have been strongly criticizing him for not holding any face to face meetings where he takes questions from the public.

Senator Daines says telephone conference calls like last night's allow him to interact with more Montanans because people don't have to travel to participate in them. He said that 10,000 to 25,000 people typically participate in his calls.

Tester Bills Gives VA Bigger Role Veterans Choice Program
Courtesy Sen. Jon Tester

Three years after Congress created the Veterans Choice healthcare program, it continues to flounder.

Here’s Montana Senator Jon Tester, who helped create Veterans Choice:

Dr. David Shulkin is President Trump's nominee to run the Veterans Affairs Department.
(PD)

President Donald Trump's nominee to run the Veterans Affairs Department says there are no easy fixes for what ails that beleaguered agency.

At his confirmation hearing today, Dr. David Shulkin vowed to, "seek major reform and a transformation of the VA."

Time is Running Out to Build a SW MT Veterans Home

Jan 27, 2017

Veterans lined up to deliver emotional testimony in support of a Southwest Montana Veterans home.  They’re seeking a so-called “bridge loan” to begin construction before time runs out.

“We’re at a point where if we don’t get it done this (Legislative) session all of the work to get this built is wasted,” said Navy Veteran and registered nurse Tom Goyette. He said if construction doesn’t start by 2019 the land donated by Don Harrington will revert back to the family.


 Tony Lapinski is a Montana veteran who's had trouble using Veterans Choice
Mike Albans

Both of Montana’s U.S. Senators have sent letters chastising the company that runs the Veterans Choice healthcare program in Montana and 36 other states.

Veterans Choice is supposed to help vets get appointments with private health care providers if they live far from a VA facility, or have been waiting a long time for a VA appointment. It was created in 2014, and has been plagued with problems since the beginning.

The Montana Department of Veterans Affairs is hosting a town hall-style meeting Thursday night in Helena. 

"The event is open to the public, so any veteran or family member, or member of the general public that just wants to learn a little more about what the VA provides are welcome to join us that evening,” said Mike Garcia, Public Affairs Officer for the Montana VA.

Montana VA Appoints New Permanent Director

Oct 28, 2016
New Permanent VA Director Dr. Kathy Berger
Courtesy of Veterans Administration

The woman who has been interim director of the Montana Veterans Administration Health Care System since June was named permanent director Friday.

First Of Its Kind Veteran's Resource Opens In Missoula

Sep 29, 2016
Denise Juneau, right, cuts the ribbon Ed Lesofski holds up at the grand opening ceremony for the Rural Institute for Veterans Education and Research in Missoula Thursday, Sept. 29. RIVER is considered a first-of-its kind program for veterans.
Edward O'Brien

A first-of-its-kind training and intervention program for veterans celebrated its grand opening in Missoula Thursday, Sept. 29.

The Rural Institute for Veterans Education and Research – “RIVER” for short – helps vets reintegrate back into civilian life after their military service ends.

Interim Director Starts Work For VA Montana

Jun 23, 2016
Veterans Affairs logo
CC-BY-2.0

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials have named an interim director for the VA Montana Health Care System.

The Montana Alzheimer’s and Dementia Workgroup announced its new Montana Alzheimer’s State Plan on Monday.
Corin Cates-Carney

After two years of work, a group is releasing a plan to combat what it calls one of the most important health care crises of our generation.

HealthNet

Last month we reported on problems with a health care program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to help veterans across the country get health care appointments more quickly, in the wake of the scandal at the VA in Phoenix that exposed veterans waiting months just to be seen.

The Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation have requested a meeting with Veterans Administration Secretary Robert McDonald in the wake of the director of the Montana VA announcing his resignation, effective July 8.

There are now five and a half weeks until Congress takes its two-month summer recess. One bill that Senator Jon Tester had hoped there would be action on by now still hasn’t advanced out of committee. It’s the proposed bi-partisan fix to the troubled Veterans Choice health care program.

Montana Senator Jon Tester.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Legislation aiming to fix the troubled Veterans Choice healthcare program made progress in the Senate today.

Veterans Choice, file photo.
Courtesy Veterans Administration

Sen. Jon Tester has introduced a proposed fix for the year-old Veterans Choice program.

"This is a big deal for veterans. It’s a big deal for the VA and I think [it’ll be] a big deal once we get it passed.”

Mineral County Hospital representatives say the hospital has not been paid for services delivered under the Veterans Choice program.
Courtesy Mineral County Hospital

This week we’re reporting on a year-old program for veterans that’s supposed to make it easier for them to get health care. It’s called Veterans Choice, and yesterday we heard widespread agreement that it’s not working as Congress intended. Frustration with Veterans Choice in Montana became evident in February, when Senator Jon Tester held 28 meetings across the state to get vets' feedback on it.

Veterans Choice, file photo.
Courtesy Veterans Administration

Two years ago news broke about a scandal at the Veterans Administration hospital in Phoenix. Congressional investigators found that the hospital was covering up the lengthy waiting times that veterans faced trying to see doctors. There’s evidence that 40 veterans, maybe more, died while waiting for medical appointments.

Veterans Affairs logo
CC-BY-2.0

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is opening a Vet Center this fall in Helena. Unlike larger VA medical clinics, Vet Centers only counsel returning combat veterans and military sexual trauma victims.

A U.S. Senate committee Tuesday heard competing bills co-sponsored by Montana's Senators to fix a veterans health program.

Daines: VA Doctors Should Be Able To Talk Pot

Jan 27, 2016
Montana lawmakers may have the opportunity to study legalizing recreational marijuana in the next year or so.
(PD)

Senator Steve Daines said today Montana veterans should be able to talk to VA doctors about anything they want, including whether to use medical marijuana.

Senator Jon Tester was in Missoula on Veterans day. He released a report he calls the “State of Veterans in Montana,” that looks at vets’ ability to access Veterans Administration health care. Tester says there are now some more VA clinics in Montana.

Tester: VA 'Choice Card' Program Needs Work

May 21, 2015
Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
Courtesy photo

Senator Jon Tester says the Veterans Administration’s new Choice Card program got off to a  “shaky” start. The Choice Card is a new program that lets veterans use private medical care if their nearest VA facility is too busy or too far away.

Keiko Sagami

As veterans get older, expenses start to add up. Especially nursing home care, when all they really need is some help at home. So now, one Missoula pilot program that does that is expanding to other parts of Montana.

It helps people like Eugene Hertz. He’s an 83-year-old Korean War veteran. He’s got a bad back, and his doctors don’t want him doing very much because of it. That really gets on his nerves, and means that his wife Joann has to do a lot of the housework. 

U.S. Senator Jon Tester and Veteran’s Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald are on a two-day tour of the state, visiting VA facilities in Helena, Missoula, and Billings.

Tuesday morning they were at Fort Harrison in Helena. McDonald says it’s the 120th VA facility he’s toured since taking over the troubled agency last July. 

McDonald and Tester sat down with about one hundred veterans and active service members, along with representatives of a range of interest groups, for a round-table discussion.

Veterans' Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is hearing a range of concerns about his agency’s performance on a two-day tour of VA facilities in Montana.

With Senator Jon Tester at his side, VA secretary McDonald listened to representatives of various groups, from mental health advocates to the American Legion, spell out what the VA needs to do to better serve the thousands of veterans across the state. He said the fact that Montana’s VA Health Care System went without a permanent director for eight months is a symptom of the problems his agency is facing.

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