U.S. SENATE – Ranking Member Jon Tester of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee led ten colleagues in expressing grave concerns over the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) recent decision to increase the privatization of Compensation and Pension (C&P) exams, negatively impacting services and benefits provided to disabled veterans. 

“We were alarmed to learn that VA’s vision for the future of the C&P program is to fully utilize private contractors to take over the VA personnel’s workload, which we believe has the potential for serious long-term negative impacts on the services and benefits provided to our nation’s veterans,” Tester and his colleagues wrote to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “As you know, when Congress established the pilot program to contract C&P exams with non-VA medical professionals, it was done in order to supplement VA’s internal capacity to perform exams to help veterans, not supplant it.”

C&P examinations are a key component of ensuring veterans receive their earned disability benefits from VA. Eliminating associated VA personnel conducting these exams—in addition to outsourcing examinations to private contractors at a potentially enormous cost to American taxpayers—would severely impact veterans and VA employees across the country, especially those in rural America. 

The Senators continued, “Given’s VA’s admission that there is a 350,000 backlog of C&P exams throughout the nation, and more than 480,000 claims are awaiting decisions, we fail to see the logic for continuing to reduce VA’s internal capacity to perform these exams as VA already has experienced, qualified, and well-trained personnel ready to perform these duties. Veterans with unique health issues and conditions including Military Sexual Trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and health impacts as a result of toxic exposures, benefit greatly from being seen by a VA medical professional compared to someone with less experience with veterans’ unique medical and mental health conditions. We have concerns that these external contracted medical examiners, with less experience evaluating veterans’ unique health conditions, could contribute to a growth in appeals when non-VA examiners misdiagnose these veterans.”

Tester has been leading the effort in Congress to better protect veterans and their benefits during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Earlier this year, he called for more transparency and accountability in the VA disability claims process during the national health crisis. He also pressed VA to use its regulatory authority to grant waivers or extensions for veterans applying for disability benefits during the pandemic.

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