Veterans Administration

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.

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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The acting director of veterans health care in Montana is on the defensive after Senator Jon Tester said the VA health center in Helena is temporarily closing its inpatient mental health unit.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald in Washington, Tester said, “staffing levels at the VA in Montana are at the point where it can no longer safely staff the eight bed acute inpatient section of the mental health facility at Ft. Harrison” in Helena.

Johnny Ginnity, acting director at Ft. Harrison says, that doesn’t mean the mental health ward is being closed.

Christopher Allen

Over 100 veterans met with Montana VA Health Care leaders in Missoula Wednesday night, some to ask, “Why can’t I get care?

The leaders came to Missoula at the direction of VA Secretary Robert McDonald, who’s called for town hall meetings to get feedback from veterans to try to rebuild their trust in the wake of national criticism for long delays in treatment and cover-ups about false scheduling records at VA facilities in Phoenix.

The vets at the meeting in Missoula sounded happy with their VA doctors, but it’s the agency’s bureaucracy that has some frustrated and worried.

Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
Courtesy photo

Senator  Jon Tester talks about election losses and leading the Democratic party’s senate campaign in 2016 in this interview with Montana Public Radio News Director Eric Whitney.

Interview Highlights:

Election Results

"Folks weren't happy with Democrats and they made some changes," said Tester. "That's certainly what elections should be about. If things aren't going the way folks think they should be, there's accountability and we move forward and try to adjust."

Montana Senator Jon Tester visited western Montana today. His trip included attending a health care summit in Charlo being put on by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Before going there, though, he stopped by Montana Public Radio to talk about a number of issues, including so-called “country of origin labeling,” the law that requires meat and seafood to carry labels so consumers can know which country it came from. He spoke with News Director Eric Whitney.

Missoulian Sam Redfern is paying particularly close attention to the ongoing Veterans Administration hearings. VA officials are holding meetings nationwide to address questions about scheduling problems, long waits and other problems facing veterans seeking care from the VA system.

Redfern is an Iraq combat veteran who serves as president of an organization called The United States of Hope, which provides a variety of services to veterans.

Over the weekend, Montana Republicans held their platform convention in Billings.  Chuck Johnson of Lee Newspapers reports that Republicans, "Irked at what they believe is Democrats interfering in their primary elections. . . called for closing their primaries and allowing only registered Republicans to vote in them."  Delegates also supported a resolution to turn over federal public lands to the state.

Steve Corey/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevecorey/6335951002/

You could say service is a tradition in Madeline Steeley’s family. She served in the US Air Force.

“Both of my daughters went into the Marine Corps, one just came out after 13 years, the other, after five. Both, heavily disabled. I have a son-in-law that came out of the Marine Corps, another son-in-law that came out of the Navy. My daughters’ father retired after 20 years Air Force. So, I have quite a bit of experience with the military,” Steeley said.

Senator Jon Tester continues his statewide listening tour to hear from Montana veterans about how to improve care at the Veterans Administration.

Veteran's Viewpoint

Jun 18, 2014

This is Dan Gallagher with Veteran’s Viewpoint.

There’s a lot to talk about in the veterans’ world these days.  For example, on May 30th VA Secretary Shinseki resigned that position--but I find neither pleasure nor optimism in that action, mostly because of the way it came to be.