(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation yesterday to remove barriers to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation and survivor benefits for certain active duty servicemembers, National Guard members, and Reservists, exposed to COVID-19 on the front lines.
“Members of the National Guard and Reserve always stand ready to protect our communities when disaster strikes,” said Ranking Member Tester. “And in return for their service, we have an obligation to provide them with the benefits they’ve earned. That’s why my colleagues and I crafted our bipartisan bill to make it easier for Guardsmen to file disability claims in the event they get sick, or die fighting on the front lines of this pandemic. Now more than ever, we must do the right thing by serving those who serve us during this unprecedented time.”
Tester’s COVID-19 Benefits for Active Duty Servicemembers, the Reserve Components, and their Survivors Act of 2020 would create a time-limited presumption of entitlement to service connection for active duty, National Guard and Reserve servicemembers if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 during, or within, 14-days after a qualifying period of military service. This would ensure that these veterans receive the VA benefits they are entitled to without first having to prove service-connection, streamlining their families’ access to VA survivor benefits in the event of their death. The bill would also eliminate the requirement that a disability occur within the line of duty for certain members of the National Guard and Reserve. It would further ensure that those individuals can access VA benefits if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 after their federal orders have ended.
In Congress, Tester has worked tirelessly to expand benefits to the men and women of the National Guard responding to the national health emergency. Following weeks of pressure, he successfully pushed the Administration to authorize Title 32 status for National Guard members, allowing servicemembers the opportunity to receive additional benefits for their extended service during the pandemic. He also urged the Department of Defense to provide financial relief from health care premiums for members of the National Guard returning to Reserve status after responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
A copy of Tester’s bill can be found HERE.