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Under Secretary Learns About Challenges Of Veterans

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., welcomed Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary Dr. Shereef Elnahal to Montana last week so Elnahal could better understand the unique challenges faced by state veterans seeking health care.

“It’s great to have him in Montana,” Tester said during a statewide media conference call on Friday, Dec. 9. “For him to see these challenges, I think it’s important.”

Elnahal noted that he feels the visit will benefit rural veterans throughout the country. His time in the Big Sky State included outreach events in Billings and at Fort Harrison near Helena.

When asked by the Northern Plains Independent what makes Montana unique for veteran health services, Elnahal explained that so many veterans rely on more than in-person care because of the distances needing to travel. Making tele-health services available is very important for Montanans.

Tester added that many Montanans either don’t have broadband or have inadequate broadband services. That problem will be addressed with approval of the infrastructure bill. “It’s coming, but we don’t have it yet,” Tester said of broadband expansion.

Elnahal said it’s also important to have institutions spread the word of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. The legislation championed by Tester delivers multiple generations of toxic-exposed veterans their earned health care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs for the first time in the nation’s history. The act expands health care for Post-9/11 combat veterans, create a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure, expand VA’s list of service presumptions and improve resources to support VA’s claims processing.

Mental health needs of the state were also discussed during the media call.

Tester noted that Mental health is probably the most challenging aspect of health care right now facing the nation.

A huge problem is being able to recruit enough professions to provide mental health services in rural areas.

Elnahal said outreach programs are geared toward reducing the stigma of mental health problems for veterans.

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