(U.S. Senate) – The Senate unanimously passed provisions from 12 Tester-backed bills as part of an end-of-year veterans’ package—including his historic legislation to address the needs of women veterans across the country.
As the only member of the Montana delegation to serve on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester has been a longtime champion for improving services and access to care for women veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Last year, Tester reintroduced his landmark Deborah Sampson Act alongside Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.), and worked with both chambers to secure provisions providing coverage and services to veteran survivors of military sexual trauma (MST).
“This is a groundbreaking moment as we push VA to provide better access to care and services for the nearly two million women veterans across the country,” said Ranking Member Tester. “Women have served in uniform since the American Revolution and are now the fastest growing population of veterans in the country. It’s our responsibility to make sure VA health care and benefits are tailored to meet their needs and are accessible to them and their families. Unanimous passage of my Deborah Sampson Act—and of the entire legislative package—sends a clear message that Congress is willing to come together to do what’s necessary and follow through on our responsibility to support all veterans.”
“VA facilities need to be updated to accommodate the growing number of women veterans so we can meet their needs. Ensuring the VA has the capability to provide more equitable care and services is key to fulfilling our promise. Passage of this bill will enable us to better support women who answer the call to serve their nation in uniform,” said Senator Boozman.
“This is an historic step forward for women veterans across the nation, as well as their families, caregivers, and survivors,” said Congresswoman Brownley. “We must provide all veterans the care and benefits they have earned and deserve—which requires providing equity to women veterans. I am so proud that by passing this legislation, we are telling our women veterans: you are not invisible.”
The Deborah Sampson Act includes the following provisions:
- Creates a dedicated Office of Women’s Health at VA, expands reintegration and readjustment group counseling retreats for women veterans and their family members, and bolsters call center services for women veterans.
- Eliminates barriers to care by staffing every VA health facility with a dedicated women’s health primary care provider, training clinicians, and retrofitting VA facilities to enhance privacy and improve the environment of care for women veterans.
- Bolsters supportive services by providing access to legal services for women veterans, expanding child care for veterans receiving VA health care, and requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on VA’s efforts to support homeless or at-risk women veterans.
- Improves access to care and benefits for survivors of MST by expanding MST counseling to former Guard and Reserve members, allowing VA to treat the physical health conditions of MST, and improving the claims process for MST survivors at the Veterans Benefits Administration.
Tester additionally secured the following provisions to better support veterans in the end-of-year veterans’ package:
- Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act—Legislation directing VA to continue providing the disability benefits questionnaires online, streamlining veterans’ access to earned disability benefits.
- Caring for the Survivors and Families of Veterans Act—Legislation lowering the age at which a surviving spouse may still receive dependency indemnity compensation benefits at the point of remarriage.
- Veterans Cemetery Grants Improvement Act—Legislation increasing VA’s funding cap from $5 million to $10 million annually to better assist states, territories and tribal governments in covering the increasing costs of operating and maintaining state-run veteran cemeteries.
- Native American Veteran Parity in Access to Care Today (PACT) Act—Legislation eliminating copayments for Native American veterans accessing health care at VA.
- Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act—Legislation establishing an Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs to advise the VA Secretary on matters relating to Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and Native American veterans.
- Accountability in Department of Veterans Affairs Scheduling and Consult Management Act—Legislation requiring VA to review the entire scheduling process—for both in-house and non-VA care—in order to increase veterans’ access to timely health care.
- Grant Regulation Adjustment during the Coronavirus Emergency (GRACE) for Homeless Veterans Act—Legislation removing barriers to VA funding for organizations in need of critical upgrades to keep homeless veterans safe from the coronavirus.
- Veterans Economic Recovery Act—Legislation expanding the Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses for Training Providers (VET TEC) program to help veterans and servicemembers transition to civilian life.
- COVID-19 Benefits for Active Duty Servicemembers, the Reserve Components, and their Survivors Act—Legislation ensuring that servicemembers who contract COVID-19 while serving will be eligible for VA benefits.
- Veterans Pension Protection Act—Legislation requiring VA to take a more central and active role by developing a plan to address the financial exploitation of veterans.
- Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act of 2019—Legislation requiring VA to establish a national protocol for administering medical exams for volunteer drivers providing transportation for veterans who are unable to safely get to and from their appointments.
Full text of the end-of-year veterans’ package is available HERE.