Tester leads lawmakers in push to curb delays in veteran care referrals

Frustrated by scheduling delays within the VA Health Care System, Sen. Jon Tester joined three other lawmakers on Friday in introducing a bill that would hold the VA accountable for the time it takes to refer patients to a community provider.

They also pushed VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on the VA’s management of its support program for veteran caregivers.

On Friday, Tester said veterans who are referred by their doctor to a community provider for care, including those in Missoula, often face lengthy delays or dropped appointments as the VA processes those referrals.

It’s not a new complaint, though Congress continues to work toward a solution. The Accountability in VA Scheduling and Consult Management Act could help, its cosponsors content.

The measure includes Democratic Sens. Tester, Patty Murray, Richard Blumenthal and Sherrod Brown.

“In rural states like Montana, community care fills in the gaps when a VA clinic is too far or a clinic doesn’t offer the right service,” said Tester. “When a veteran is sent into a community for care, we have to make sure their timely access to care isn’t jeopardized by red tape and a backlog of referrals.

Tester previously introduced the VA Missiona Act in response to the growing backlog of Montana veterans waiting for health care. That measure enabled local VA clinics to request a mobile deployment team for help in getting caught up.

The new measure would track how often those clinics request a team for help and how the VA deploys them. It would also require the VA to clarify its referral processes and improve training so VA staff are better able to direct veterans to the best health care option.

“My bill ensures that this process is more efficient and makes more sense for veterans,” Tester said.

Tester also joined several lawmakers on Friday in a letter to Wilkie stating they had additional concerns over the management and operation of the VA’s caregiver program. They submitted roughly a dozen questions to the agency seeking answers.

“We continue to hear from our constituents, veterans groups, and in the press about inconsistent application of eligibility rules that result in unjustified downgrades or discharges,” they wrote. “These are more than individual cases, and given the department’s previous shortcomings on this issue, concerted efforts to finally resolve the problem are urgently needed.”