(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today advanced bipartisan legislation that addresses the critical infrastructure needs of America’s military and ensures veterans in Montana and across the country have access to the timely care and benefits they have earned.
In an Appropriations Committee hearing, Tester voted for the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill.
The bill addresses Tester’s previous concerns with the President’s proposed budget, which paid for community care by cutting benefits for the oldest and most vulnerable veterans without enhancing care provided at VA facilities.
Tester helped improve the bill by securing key provisions that enhance access to VA care for veterans in rural areas, better address medical workforce shortages, and invest in efforts to deliver care for the nation’s growing number of women veterans.
“Our brave men and women who have served and are serving deserve the very best we can provide,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This bill helps the VA deliver quality care, strengthens our national security, and does right by the men and women who have worn our uniform.”
During consideration of the bill, the Committee unanimously accepted Tester’s amendment to make sure that projects within the state home construction grant program, like the one planned in Butte, would not fall further down VA’s priority list unless there are urgent safety concerns at other facilities. Tester also supported an amendment that included funding to construct the veterans home in Butte. Unfortunately, that amendment was defeated on a party-line vote.
Tester secured language in the bill to allow corpsmen and medics from the Armed Services to be hired by the VA and trained to become physician assistants. This is modeled after Tester’s bipartisan bill, the Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act.
This appropriations bill will also maintain the infrastructure of missile facilities at Malmstrom Air Force Base and ensure that Malmstrom’s 819th RED HORSE Squadron will stay in Montana, rather than transferring to Guam.
Other Tester-authored provisions included in the bill would:
- Prohibit the VA from closing or reducing hours of operation at facilities across the country, including those in Glendive and Miles City.
- Increase the number of employees working to resolve veterans disability benefits claims and appeals.
- Allow the VA to provide fertility treatment through in vitro fertilization or adoption for disabled veterans.
- Strengthen accountability and transparency among third party contractors, consistent with Tester’s PACT Act.
- Increase funding for gender-specific health care services, consistent with Tester’s Deborah Sampson Act.
- Push the VA to streamline the process for veterans to receive travel reimbursements when they travel to receive VA health care.
- Strengthen services for homeless or at-risk veterans and their families.
- Address chronic workforce shortages by assessing why employees leave the VA and identifying staffing needs.
- Increase access to care for rural veterans through increasing the Office of Rural Health budget by $20 million and initiating a nurse advice hotline.
- Allow the VA to hire more Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists.
The appropriations bill will now head to the Senate floor for a final vote.