Tester: Veterans Affairs & Indian Health Service

Montana’s senior U.S. Senator, Jon Tester, is on the frontline of two major problems the Federal Government is facing: healthcare for veterans and healthcare for Native Americans.

Tester is the Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and he is a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

So is Jon Tester up for this challenge?

Tester has been in the senate for over seven years, so he probably knows his way around – meaning he can find the closest bathroom to his committee hearing room, and he knows a few shortcuts to get from one meeting to the next. Plus, each year more and more of his calls are getting returned, and he can make it to the airport in record time to get out of D.C.

Tester has proudly proclaimed in his press releases that he “has served on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee since his first day in the Senate.” I’ve also noticed we’re starting to see him use the Max Baucus angle to promote himself and the committees on which he is a member.

Tester’s Indian Affairs Committee held a hearing in Billings yesterday about the Indian Health Services (IHS), and some people testified that more money was the answer to the agency’s woes. A press release from the committee stated, “Tribes Testify to Inadequate Healthcare, Funding Shortfalls and Lack of Qualified Medical Professionals.”

A few weeks ago, the director of the Billings Area Indian Health Service, Anna Whiting-Sorrell, “resigned less than 18 months into the job, saying her efforts to improve health care for Indians were being crippled by a dysfunctional system.”

In my opinion, when someone of the caliber of Whiting-Sorrell quits it should be a wake-up call to anyone who cares about Native Americans.

As for veterans, just yesterday the Billings Gazette editorial board proclaimed that the Department of Veterans Affairs needs more money. Of course, the Gazette is a member of Lee Newspapers which believes handing out bonuses on a sinking ship is fine and dandy.

Last week I wrote that every year since 1985-86 the funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs has increased. I have also advocated allowing veterans to use local civilian hospitals and clinics:

What Congress and the White House need to do is make significant changes to the way VA care is delivered. We can’t build or lease space for a VA clinic in every town because it’s “remote.” What we can do is give veterans access to civilian healthcare in their hometown – and it would be free for service-connected veterans.

Native Americans should be able to get their healthcare in their hometowns, too.

If we hear people say the VA or IHS needs more money, or that there are “funding shortfalls” then they don’t need to go far to ask for more money: Jon Tester is also a member of the committee that funds the VA and IHS.

Tester is a member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations subcommittee which funds the VA, as well as the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations subcommittee, which funds the IHS.

Tester proudly proclaims on his website that the Appropriations committee “ultimately decides where the government spends taxpayer money, and how much it spends.”

It looks as though the ball is squarely in the senior senator’s court.

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