(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today advanced bipartisan legislation to improve the VA for Montana veterans and boost the military readiness at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester has a lead role in drafting and passing the 2019 Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations Bill through the Senate. This bill funds VA operations and military construction projects across the nation.
“This bill honors the sacrifice of Montana veterans by making sure the VA can provide healthcare and benefits worthy of their service,” Tester said. “Serving our veterans is a cost of war, and we must never back down from that responsibility.”
After including numerous Montana priorities in the bill during the Committee process, Tester made the bill stronger on the Senate floor by adding an amendment that prevents VA leaders from limiting the independence of the Inspector General, the office responsible for investigating misconduct and waste of taxpayer money. Tester offered his amendment after reports that the VA’s Acting Secretary is refusing to comply with requests for documents from the VA Inspector General.
“The unanimous support for my amendment to protect the VA Inspector General sends a clear message that the VA is not above the law and must comply with the IG’s request for access to information,” said Tester.
Tester also successfully pushed an amendment to force the VA to track and monitor when its accounting mistakes result in debts it tries to recoup from veterans.
Tester also fought to include the following provisions:
- Language directing the VA to develop a plan to address staffing shortages at VA facilities.
- $1.8 billion for VA construction projects to address aging and inadequate VA facilities.
- A requirement that the VA notify Congress when a government contractor fails to do its job.
- $861 million for caregiver benefits to help offset costs associated with caring for a veteran.
- $531 million to ensure the VA is providing gender-specific care and benefits to women veterans.
- $450 million to help homeless veterans and their families find permanent housing.
- $270 million to improve services for rural veterans.
- $30 million to expand veterans’ access to telehealth care.
- A directive demanding the VA and Defense Department establish timelines for rolling out electronic health records.
Tester also doubled down on his efforts to strengthen Malmstrom Air Force Base by pushing the Air Force to expedite replacing the storage facility for Malmstrom’s fleet of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and to prevent the RED HORSE Squadron from getting permanently shipped out of Montana.
“This legislation strengthens our military and helps keeps this nation safer,” said Tester. “Our state’s Airmen and members of the Montana National Guard safeguard our freedom and this bill provides crucial resources for their mission.”
Tester recently secured resources in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act to maintain and modernize Malmstrom’s missile fleet and expedite replacement of its UH-1N Huey helicopter fleet.
The Senate voted 86-5 to advance the 2019 Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations Bill.