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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Veterans Choice Reform Bill Advances In Senate

Montana Sen. Jon Tester
Sen. Jon Tester talks about a bill to reform the troubled Veterans Choice health care program, Wednesday Nov. 29, 2017.

A bill to reform the troubled Veterans Choice health care program took a big step forward Wednesday.

Senator Jon Tester says it won bi-partisan support in the Veterans Affairs committee he sits on, and should now go to the Senate floor.

Veterans Choice passed in 2014, in response to a scandal that erupted when the Phoenix VA was discovered falsifying its records to hide long wait times veterans face for medical appointments. The Choice program was supposed to let vets get medical care in the private sector if they faced long waits at the VA, or lived far from a VA facility.

But it never worked as advertised, and many vets got hung up with the company hired to help them book appointments. Tester says his reform bill will make it easier for vets to do that.

"They’ll be able to visit with their doc within the VA, and the doc will be able to make some recommendations on where they need to go – and the vet can overrule all this, by the way – if they say no, I don’t want to do that, they can have another conversation with the doc and come to an agreement that then need to go some other place."

Tester’s bill comes with a $50 billion price tag. It would also support veteran caregivers, and add 1,500 medical residencies to the VA system.

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