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Veterans Press Conference Opening Remarks
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
June 1, 2014
Helena, MT

Thank you for being here. I appreciate you coming on such short notice.

If there’s a topic, however, that should cause us all to stop what we’re doing and take pause, it’s veterans’
health care.

The issues facing the VA are troubling and unfortunately not new.

As you all know, the fallout from recent allegations and reports have led to a shakeup in the VA’s leadership.

Secretary Shinseki’s record of service and his efforts to improve the lives of his fellow veterans stand for what
is right about America.

I worked together with Shinseki and former Secretary Peake to open 2 new Veterans Centers in Kalispell and
Great Falls;

7 new Community-Based Outpatient Clinics in Havre, Lewistown, Cut Bank, Plentywood, Libby, Hamilton and
Missoula and a new inpatient mental health facility at Fort Harrison.

And I secured funding for an expansion of the veterans’ clinic in Billings.

I’ve fought to improve the use of telemedicine and to get veterans suffering from PTSD and Traumatic Brain
Injury better care.

But it’s unacceptable if even one veteran isn’t getting the care they need. Veterans make tremendous sacrifices
– they earned timely and reliable care. There is no room for error.

And their care comes before any one person.

Let me be clear: Secretary Shinseki’s resignation will not fix all of the problems at the VA. We must fix the
systemic issues at the department that leads to a lack of accountability and transparency, long wait times and a
shortage of trained physicians.

Nine out of ten veterans say they are satisfied with the quality of care they receive from the VA once they get in
the door. The biggest problem is getting folks through that door.

With more veterans using the VA system than ever before, we need to fix these access problems now.

That’s why I’m announcing today that I am launching a listening tour around Montana to gather feedback on
veterans’ healthcare. I’ll be visiting towns and cities across our state this summer – rural and urban – to make
sure Montana veterans have a voice in how we move forward.

On my tour, I’ll be listening for what the VA is doing right and what it needs to do better.

I’ll be looking for ideas that I can turn into good legislation when I get back to Washington.

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Hearings and listening sessions are important. But turning them into action and results – in this case results that
save lives – is what’s most important.

That’s why I’m also pushing a package of bills and funding provisions that will address three areas of concern:
accountability and transparency, workforce shortages, and access to care.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have three new funding provisions that will give investigators
and medical examiners more teeth to take a hard look at the issues facing the VA. This includes a new provision
to give more resources to the Department of Justice to investigate any criminal wrongdoing. And for the first
time ever, one of these provisions would make the medical inspector’s reports public.

I also have legislation that will address workforces shortage issues. These bills will remove the cap on the VA’s
student loan repayment program and reauthorize the tuition assistance program for medical professionals -
incentivizing more folks to go work for veterans. Something we desperately need in many parts of the country.

Regarding access issues, I’m pushing for an expansion of Project ARCH – a pilot program that has been
successful in connecting veterans with timely care. And I have asked the VA to form partnerships with rural
providers so veterans don’t have to drive hours to get access to health care.

Additionally, we all know the VA is home to thousands of workers who dedicate their lives to helping
veterans. I’ve met VA staff here in Montana doing outstanding work. But as we’ve seen lately, there are some
bad apples around the country.

That’s why I’m outlining a process for my office to receive whistleblower comments from VA staff. My office
is ready to forward any complaints about VA healthcare to investigators. All claims of mismanagement or poor
care at the VA must be thoroughly and professionally investigated.

My staff will confidentially share claims with the Office of the Inspector General, whose sole responsibility is
to expose VA waste, fraud and abuse. My staff and I can provide more details on how to do this after today’s
event.

Finally, I want to reiterate one more thing – privatizing the VA will result in worse care for veterans – because
medical professionals would no longer be answering to patients but instead to shareholders. I will not allow that
to happen.

Our focus must remain on improving veterans’ access to quality care.

These brave men and women put their lives on the line for our freedoms. They risk life and limb so that this
country can continue to stand as a shining example to other nations around the world.

Those sacrifices, however, come at a price. And they come with a responsibility that we all must bear. We
should never let veterans down, but if we do, we must re-dedicate ourselves to their everlasting support.

I look forward to continuing my efforts to improve veterans’ care, get to the bottom of the problems at the VA,
and living up to our responsibilities.

With that, I’d like to open it up to your questions. Thank you again for coming.