Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) With the opening of a new clinic in Missoula, military veterans in western Montana and surrounding areas will now have an easier time getting qualified for Veterans Affairs benefits.

On Friday, Virginia-based Leidos QTC Health Services opened the doors of a new Missoula clinic intended primarily for medical examinations to qualify military veterans for disability benefits. Sen. Jon Tester and Leidos CEO Larry Schaefer were on hand to cut the ribbon on the first clinic of its kind not only in Montana but also in the Northern Rocky Mountain region.

“Any veteran who has applied for VA benefits knows that medical disability exams are the most critical part of that application for benefits. However, way too often, it’s also the most time-consuming part of that application,” Tester said. “When I heard from vets in Missoula that accessing these exams was taking months and driving hundreds of miles to get them, I knew we had to do better.”

In the past, veterans often had to travel to Spokane, Wash., to get a disability exam. Then, the wait-time for an appointment increased dramatically after the passage of the PACT Act in August 2022, which expanded VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances, such as Agent Orange. Tester, who chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was one of three original sponsors of S.3373, the Senate version of the PACT Act, in early 2022.

Since the PACT Act became law, more than 6,000 veterans have filed claims in Montana and many need an examination. Tester’s staff estimated that about 66,000 veterans live in Montana, so there are probably more who would qualify for benefits under the PACT Act.

“With that kind of expansion, it is no small task to implement that law,” Tester said. “With more veterans applying for VA benefits than ever before, new clinics like this one are exactly what we need to help deliver real results for veterans who need the support right now.”

Four contractors provide such exam clinics nationwide. Leidos QTC has 90 clinics around the country, but most are in areas with higher populations, such as large cities along the West and East coasts and some in the interior such as Denver, Colo. and Kansas City, Kansas. In order to reach smaller communities, Leidos also has a dozen large, specially designed trucks that serve as mobile clinics that travel across the nation.

While two mobile clinics serve the Northwest, Schaefer said his company set up a clinic in a smaller town like Missoula because of urging from Tester. It took him about a year to find a good location at 2819 Great Northern Loop off Mullen Road.

Sen. Jon Tester meets with Montana veterans. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)
Sen. Jon Tester meets with Montana veterans. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

“Sen. Tester and his staff challenged us to do a better job of delivering services to the veterans of Montana. So I came out here with his staffers and toured the state, getting to talk to veterans to understand the unique nature of Montana. It’s a really big state,” Schaefer said. “We understood that veterans often live in really rural communities and have to drive a long way to get a compensation exam for the VA.”

Schaefer said the Missoula clinic will also provide exams for other federal employees, including readiness exams for National Guard units that are preparing to deploy for remote tours.  Once the clinic is ramped up, Schaefer anticipates that it will complete about 500 exams a month, providing medical, dental, audiology and mental health services.

The mental health exams are especially important for combat veterans who suffer from PTSD. Schaefer said mental health exams make up about 25% of the work that his clinics provide.

Two years ago, the VA opened the David J. Thatcher VA Clinic in Missoula to provide healthcare for veterans who have already qualified for VA healthcare and disability benefits. For those who aren’t yet qualified, the new Leidos clinic can help them get their benefits. The clinic needs to conduct a set amount of exams per month to keep it cost-effective, but Tester said it was likely to stay busy even as the initial surge of PACT Act exams drops off.

“Let’s hope we get to a point where we don’t need this clinic anymore. That would be great. But in the foreseeable future, it’s going to be busy,” Tester said. “This is one of the doors into the VA. The VA provides good benefits, but you gotta get through the door.”

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at