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Senator Tester: Veteran's Choice Program Is Broken

Sen. Jon Tester (file photo)
Senator Tester speaks before the U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Tuesday.

A U.S. Senate committee Tuesday heard competing bills co-sponsored by Montana's Senators to fix a veterans health program.

It's called “Veteran's Choice,” and is supposed to fix the problem of veterans having to wait a long time to get appointments with doctors, or having to travel a long way to get health care. Veteran's Choice was launched in 2014 after problems at a V-A facility in Phoenix reveled that some Veterans Administration clinics were forging records to make it appear that vets were being seen in a timely fashion. Some Arizona vets actually died while waiting months to be seen. Choice is supposed to let veterans go to local doctors, and then bill the V-A.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester.

"Choice is broken. We've got to figure out how to make it work. Our veterans are suffering because of it. That's unacceptable. That program should be done and gone and we should be talking about the next challenge."

Tester says his bill has the backing of V-A Secretary Bob McDonald. But Republican Senator Steve Daines says his bill is the best fix for Veterans Choice. Both say their legislation will make it easier for vets to get care at local clinics and doctors offices. V-A officials say the year-old Choice program was hastily-conceived in the wake of the Phoenix scandal and needs substantial changes to work for both veterans and the local clinics that help care for them.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.