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Vulnerable Dem senator breaks silence on Biden admin providing veteran medical resources to illegal immigrants

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has been silent about the VA's efforts to assist with healthcare claims by illegal immigrants who are currently held in ICE's custody.

An effort by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) process health care treatment for illegal immigrants despite a growing backlog of U.S. veterans led to uproar among several lawmakers, but one notable Democrat has been tight-lipped about the matter.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has been largely silent about efforts by the VA to assist with healthcare claims made by illegal immigrants who are currently held in ICE’s custody as the backlog for veterans’ claims piles up. However, his office dismissed the claims about the VA giving healthcare to illegal immigrants.

Tester serves as chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which has primary jurisdiction over the VA and works to address problems and issues related to veterans in the United States.


The arrangement between the VA’s Financial Service Center (VA-FSC) and ICE to process claims for migrant medical care is a longstanding one that actually predates the Biden administration and was outlined in a 2020 memo during former President Donald Trump’s administration.

GOP SENATOR FUMES OVER BIDEN ADMIN PROVIDING VETERAN MEDICAL RESOURCES TO ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

In a statement to Fox News Digital, Tester’s office said, “VA does not provide health care to illegal immigrants, and as Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Senator Tester will work to ensure it remains that way.”

The senator’s office added, “Because of Congress’s failure to pass a bipartisan border security bill supported by Border Patrol, ICE is considering the mass release of detainees at the southern border, so Senator Tester will continue working to boost border security as well as ensure VA lives up to the promises we make our veterans.”

When an illegal migrant under ICE detention requires health care, they are typically treated onsite by medical professionals. However, if specialist or emergency care is required, they may be taken to an independent private provider.

In such cases, ICE contracts with the VA’s Financial Service Center (VA-FSC) to process reimbursements to those providers. According to a report from July, ICE has hundreds of letters of understanding in which ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) will reimburse providers at Medicare rates. That uses the VA-FSC’s Healthcare Claims Processing System, which is a portal that allows providers to submit and view claims and access other resources.

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The VA told Fox News Digital in December that it has had an interagency agreement with the IHSC since 2002 to provide processing, but it also noted that the department neither provides health care nor pays for it. Under the agreement with IHSC, ICE pays fees for the claims processing services rendered and covers disbursements made to pay for claims.

However, the crisis at the border, with record numbers of migrants crossing into the U.S. and needing medical care, has likely worsened what one former veterans’ affairs adviser told Fox News Digital in December was a “history of a backlog of medical claims which has resulted in veterans getting bills they shouldn’t be getting, and … having dissatisfied community care providers who are not getting paid in a timely manner.”

In 2013, Tester voted against an amendment offered by then-Sen. Jeff Session, R-Ala., to prevent illegal immigrants from accessing free, taxpayer-funded healthcare. That amendment, which failed in a vote of 43 to 56, would have established a “deficit-neutral reserve fund to achieve savings by prohibiting illegal immigrants or illegal immigrants granted legal status from qualifying for federally subsidized health care.”

Montana’s junior senator, Republican Steve Daines, has voiced strong opposition to the Biden administration’s controversial effort to divert certain resources from the VA to process claims made by illegal immigrants.

“Montana has the second-highest number of veterans per capita in the country and every day I hear stories about the deteriorating access to quality care provided by the VA,” Daines said in a statement. “According to data from the VA, at Fort Harrison VA Medical Center – Montana’s largest VA health care facility – wait times can be as long as 123 days for veterans seeking dental care and 70 days for those needing mental health care appointments.”

“Additionally, there are nearly 318,221 backlogged claims nationally – which includes disability compensation and pension claims that have been received by VA that requires development and a decision by a VA claims processor – as of September 2023,” he added. “This represents a nearly 10 year high. In stark contrast, illegal immigrants in ICE facilities appear to face low barriers to accessing specialty or emergency health care. This disparity is unacceptable and dishonors Montana’s veterans who must deal with long wait times and excessive delays to see health care providers.”

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Daines insisted the “Biden administration created this humanitarian and national security crisis at the border” and reiterated that he believes the “crisis can only be fixed by deliberate and targeted policy changes that enforce the rule of law, tighten our asylum standards, rein in the Department of Homeland Security’s parole power, and finish the southern border wall.”

VA GETS FLAK FOR USING STAFF TO HELP ICE PROCESS ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT HEALTH CARE DESPITE BACKLOG OF VETERANS

GOP Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who are also members of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, have also been outspoken against the VA’s effort.

Last month, Blackburn sent a letter to the VA, questioning the agency about its use of resources for the healthcare of illegal immigrants. Addressed to Secretary Denis McDonough, Blackburn rejected the VA’s premise that it does not provide healthcare to those in ICE custody and questioned whether the agency checks citizenship status prior to approving veteran healthcare benefits, as well as whether the Biden administration has given a directive on medical care for those migrants, according to the Washington Examiner.

Blackburn’s letter also pointed to a 2022 fiscal year report by the Department of Homeland Security that detailed “ICE spent more than $373.5 million on detained noncitizen healthcare,” according to the outlet.

Echoing Blackburn, Tuberville has also raised red flags about the effort. During an interview last week with Fox News Digital, he touted his recently introduced No VA Resources for Illegal Aliens Act, which he introduced alongside Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., that would ban such action.

“[Biden’s] decided, OK, we’ve got to feed all these 10 million people we’ve let come across the border, we’ve got to house them, and we’ve got to give them health care,” Tuberville said. “They’ve opened up care from the doctors in these [VA] community care systems. The lines now in the VA’s are getting longer. Our funds that are supposed to go to the veterans are going to these illegal immigrants that are coming across.”

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Tuberville lamented that the VA was already not able to provide care for all 19 million veterans living across the country and that the community systems he mentioned had helped reduce wait times until the border crisis began to get worse.

Tester, who has represented Montana in the Senate since 2007, faces a tough re-election battle in the state former President Donald Trump carried by more than 16 points in the 2020 presidential election. And the nationwide attention given to the southern border crisis in recent years has only made his re-election campaign more difficult.

In a May 2023 interview with MSNBC, more than two months after he announced he would seek re-election to his post in the Senate, Tester said he believed President Biden had “helped” secure the southern border.

“I think the big issue here is that we need to make sure the southern border is secure, and I think the president has helped do that,” he said at the time.

Tester, who has stood up against some of the Biden administration’s actions related to the border and immigration, took aim at his fellow lawmakers last week who voted against a supplemental spending package that included spending on border security as well as aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

“Montanans from every corner of our state tell me they want action to secure our southern border, and we have a bipartisan bill that would give ICE, Border Patrol, and law enforcement the resources and policy changes they need to actually get the job done,” Tester told Fox News Digital at the time. “But instead, D.C. politicians have chosen to play reckless political games, and we’re seeing the consequences play out right in front of our eyes.”

That legislation was defeated in a 49-50 vote, mostly along party lines, with only Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, James Lankford and Mitt Romney voted in favor of advancing the bill on the Republican side.

Fox News’ Brandon Gillespie and Adam Shaw contributed to this report.

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