Delays at Missoula VA clinic, others prompt Tester to address backlog

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, has introduced legislation that would help streamline the system that’s used to refer veterans to community providers. (Missoula Current file photo)

Veterans seeking care at the VA clinic in Missoula are currently waiting months to get in, sometimes seeing their appointments canceled and extended to a more distant date due to a lack of physicians.

Sen. Jon Tester wants to change that.

Following the VA’s failure to address a growing backlog of referrals at VA Montana, Tester has introduced legislation that would help streamline the system that’s used to refer veterans to community providers.

“The VA isn’t living up to its responsibility to address the growing backlog of veterans waiting for doctor appointments,” Tester said on Wednesday. “My bill will give the VA the tools it needs to tackle the backlog of consults and get Montana veterans into local doctors faster.”

Tester said his bill would improve the VA’s ability to hire staff, something the Missoula clinic has struggled to do. While calls to the public affairs office for the VA Montana Health Care System haven’t been returned, one local VA employee said the Missoula clinic is short on doctors.

While one doctor was allegedly hired, he chose to go to another clinic, forcing the VA to cancel – then reschedule – several appointments at a later date. In some cases, veterans are already waiting more than two months to be seen.

Tester’s legislation comes several months after he urged VA Secretary David Shulkin to send a team of experts to VA Montana to review staffing shortages and improve scheduling to address the backlog of referrals.

“Staffing shortages have been plaguing the VA for years, and if you compound that with the Trump administration’s hiring freeze, it makes it nearly impossible to reduce wait times and backlogs in places like Montana,” said Tester.