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VA Secretary Makes Montana First Official Trip

Denis McDonough, wearing two masks, speaks with someone off camera, using hand gestures.
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
Secretary of Veterans Affairs speaks to reporters following a roundtable at Montana State University Billings Monday, April 5 2021.

The new leader of the Biden Administration's Department of Veterans Affairs is visiting Montana this week in his first official trip as Cabinet Secretary.

Secretary Denis McDonough on Monday dropped by a couple of VA clinics and attended a veteran roundtable in Billings.

He comes at the invitation of Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester, new Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

McDonough said the VA’s priorities include vaccinating veterans for COVID-19, following up on appointments veterans postponed or changed due to the pandemic and upgrading facilities. Both Tester and McDonough say there’s a need to find and keep healthcare professionals to meet demand.

McDonough said he heard frustration about turnover at the roundtable.

“We’re performing well in this region and in Montana at, one, in retaining people, two, in recruiting new people, but this is a major challenge and we’re gonna have to stay on top of it," McDonough said.

McDonough says $17 billion put aside for Veterans Affairs in the most recent COVID-19 relief bill could help address the surge in demand for care.

McDonough’s three-day trip continues in Bozeman and Butte on Tuesday and Helena on Wednesday.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.