Tester, Isakson lobby Senate ahead of vote on VA health care reform

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, pictured, and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, lobbied for their VA Mission Act on Tuesday ahead of this weeks Senate vote.

A veterans bill that looks to implement sweeping reforms of the VA health care system is set for a hearing in the U.S. Senate this week, though Sen. Jon Tester and his Republican ally aren’t waiting to promote the landmark piece of legislation.

Tester, D-Montana, joined Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, and veteran service organizations on Tuesday at a press conference intended to lobby support for the VA Mission Act before the Senate takes its vote.

The House passed the measure last week on a 347-70 vote.

“The VA Mission Act is a bold, bipartisan compromise that puts health care decisions in the hands of the veteran and breaks down barriers to health care,” Tester said. “Wherever it makes sense for the veteran to go, that’s where they go. Our bill gets rid of a one-size-fits-all system and creates a more efficient, easier-to-navigate system.”

Among other things, the measure would scrap the VA’s troubled Choice program and allow a VA patient and his or her doctor to choose where it makes the most sense to receive care. It would also extend VA caregiver benefits and assistance to veterans of all eras, and it addresses the VA’s workforce shortage.

“It’s the last piece of a great mosaic to reform the benefits for our veterans and make them contemporary with the 21st century and see to it that the best care, the best attention and the best legislation is in place for our veterans,” Isakson said. “In the end, we cost less, we’re not privatized and we’re mobilized.”

While the bill’s name has changed, the substance has not. Tester and Isakson said they’ve spent the last year working to craft a bill that reforms community care and strengthens the VA.

Tester also described the bill as a compromise between the VA’s supporters and its detractors, including those who are looking to privatize veterans health care – something Tester has opposed.

“The best defense against any effort to privatize the VA or send veterans in a wholesale fashion to the private sector is to make sure the VA is living up to its promise,” Tester said. “The VA Mission Act does that. It recognizes the balance that’s needed between VA care and community care, and it invests in a medical and clinical staff to serve the VA.”