(U.S. Senate) – Following weeks of bipartisan negotiations, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Jon Tester successfully helped secure billions for critical programs under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DOD) as part of the annual federal spending package to support veterans and servicemembers and enhance our national security.
“For weeks, my colleagues and I worked across the aisle to secure these resources to support veterans, servicemembers, and communities across the country in need of critical relief during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ranking Member Tester. “Although far from perfect, I’m proud that Congress came together to deliver this spending bill that will make critical investments in Montana’s defense capabilities and provide veterans and troops with the medical care and benefits they’ve earned.”
Tester advocated for the following VA provisions in the bipartisan deal:
- $104.4 billion for VA, including $12.5 billion in emergency funding to address the rapidly increasing cost of health care for veterans.
- $90 billion for VA medical care, including $10.3 billion for mental health; $1.3 billion for telehealth services; $1.2 billion for the Caregivers Program; $504 million for opioid misuse prevention and treatment; $815 million for medical and prosthetic research; $660.7 million for women veterans health care; and $300 million for rural health initiatives.
- $138.7 billion for veterans benefits, including veteran disability compensation, education benefits, vocational rehabilitation and job training.
- $94.2 billion in advance funding for veterans health care, and $145.3 billion in advance funding for veterans benefits.
- $278.3 million for related agencies including the American Battle Monuments Commission, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
- $25 million under the Department of Justice for veterans treatment courts.
- Language to allow $150 million for COVID-related medical construction projects at State Veterans Homes, as well as $100 million in additional funding for COVID-19 prevention and response at State Veterans Homes.
- Language requiring the Veterans Crisis Line to adhere to all requirements of the American Association of Suicidology and requiring VA to conduct a study on the effectiveness of the Veterans Crisis Line and referrals to VA mental health care.
- Language dedicating funds for expanding VA’s child care program to decrease barriers to care for veterans receiving essential health services from the Department.
Tester also championed the following defense wins in the federal spending bill:
- Malmstrom Air Force Base: Investments to support Air Force nuclear modernization, including $1.4 billion for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program and $81 million for Minute Man III modernization and maintenance, and $41 million for the replacement of the Vietnam-era Huey helicopters with the MH-139 Grey Wolf.
- National Guard:
o $950 million for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account (NGREA) to modernize reserve forces and ensure interoperability with the active duty force.
o $797 million for eight additional C-130J aircraft for the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, and $180 million for engine and propeller upgrades of existing C-130H aircraft.
o $914.4 million for the Counter-Drug program, which includes an increase of $100 million for the National Guard State Plans.
- Military Personnel: Includes a 3 percent military pay raise.
- Medical Research: The bill includes $1.7 billion for medical research, including $370 million for the competitively peer-reviewed medical research program.
- Montana State University:
o $10 million for the Army Research Laboratory to support Montana State University's research in extreme battery production; improving battery materials and chemistry to make them inherently more rugged while meeting energy and power requirements.
o $4 million to help small businesses partner with DOD research laboratories through Techlink at Montana State University.
o $7 million for Montana State University’s research into Quantum Cryptography to develop cutting edge technologies to ensure future technological advantages for the military.
o $3 million to support the University of Montana’s partnership with the Marine Corps to assist with technology scouting, and rapid capabilities development.
- University of Montana:
o $15 million for critical language and culture training at the University of Montana for Special Operations forces and members of the intelligence community.
o $5 million to support the University of Montana’s research into new systems to prevent noise induced hearing loss in war fighters.
o $5 million to develop sensor technologies to monitor the physiological conditions of warfighters in order to measure physical performance.
- $8.1 billion for critical military construction projects across the nation.