(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester successfully introduced, spearheaded, and sent eight veterans’ bills to the President’s desk to be signed into law in his first year as Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. These new laws are part of Tester’s years-long push, and continued commitment, to deliver stronger care, benefits, and services to veterans in Montana and nationwide through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“We have a shared responsibility as a nation to live up to the promises we’ve made to our service men and women both during and after their time in uniform,” said Chairman Tester. “And as Chairman, I’m proud of the strides we made this year in getting a number of bipartisan bills across the finish line in Congress, including ones that increased veterans’ access to quality mental health care, delivered stronger benefits, and expanded critical resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been a great honor working alongside the Administration, Democrats, and Republicans to hold VA accountable in delivering for veterans, and I look forward to continuing to build on our efforts in the new year.”
President Joe Biden signed the following veterans’ bills authored by Tester in the 117th Congress:
- Strengthening and Amplifying Vaccination Efforts to Locally Immunize all Veterans and Every Spouse (SAVE LIVES) Act — Bipartisan law that allows VA to provide COVID vaccination services to all veterans, veteran spouses, caregivers, and Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) recipients at no cost to them.
- Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans’ Mental Health Act — Bipartisan law that expands rural veterans’ access to mental health care. It establishes three new VA Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement (RANGE) program centers to provide community-based care and services for rural veterans diagnosed with serious mental health issues, and supports additional research on rural veterans’ mental health care needs and treatment options.
- Fiscal Year 2021 Major Medical Facility Authorization Act — Bipartisan law that authorizes major VA medical facility construction projects across the country for fiscal year 2021, including in California, Washington, New York, and Texas.
- Veterans’ Disability Compensation Cost-Of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) Act of 2021 — Bipartisan law that increases the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans. It requires the federal government to provide disabled veterans with a COLA payable under title II of the Social Security Act, which sets the requirements for disability insurance benefits.
- Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act — Bipartisan law that reauthorizes authorities which, without extension, would have cut important veterans’ benefits and services. One of these authorities expands access to mental health care by allowing certain eligible veterans to receive Beneficiary Travel pay reimbursement for transportation to and from their mental health care appointments at various sites, including one at the Vet Center in Kalispell, Montana. The authorities also enhance veterans’ access to dental care and allow VA to continue accepting donated property.
- Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act — Bipartisan law that expands in-state tuition eligibility for the families of veterans who die on active duty or from service-connected disabilities. It requires public colleges and universities that receive GI Bill benefits to provide in-state tuition rates for students using Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance—helping reduce the out-of-pocket education costs for surviving spouses and children.
- VA Transparency & Trust Act — Bipartisan law that requires VA to regularly report to Congress on its use of emergency COVID-19 relief funding. It directs VA to submit bi-weekly reports to Congress on how COVID-19 relief funds are allocated—providing Committee leaders additional oversight over the Department’s spending. It also requires reviews of VA’s spending by the VA Office of Inspector General and Government Accountability Office.
- Responsible Education Mitigating Option and Technical Extensions (REMOTE) Act — Bipartisan law that ensures student veterans can access their full housing allowances while pursuing education remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, Tester chaired 22 oversight hearings and roundtable discussions with VA, veterans, and stakeholders on bolstering veterans suicide prevention efforts, improving veterans’ employment and education opportunities, tackling the claims backlog, ending veterans homelessness, and mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on veterans and their families. He also successfully led the bipartisan effort to confirm all eight of the VA senior leaders nominated by the President.
As the Senate returns in 2022, Tester looks to tackle additional priorities by working with his colleagues across the aisle and in both chambers to pass a comprehensive veterans’ package addressing key issues in the new year.
A longtime fighter for the expansion of care and benefits for toxic exposed veterans, Tester will also continue working to pass his Comprehensive and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act of 2021—legislation to allow veterans affected by toxic exposure, including 3.5 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, to obtain immediate and lifelong access to VA health care.
Tester has been a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee since 2007. For years, he has been a champion for veterans in the Senate, working with various Veterans Service Organizations to push critical initiatives such as the expansion of benefits and care for those exposed to Agent Orange, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, the Deborah Sampson Act, the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans, Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act, and the VA MISSION Act—which expanded VA caregiver benefits to veterans of all eras and their families.
A one-pager on Chairman Tester’s 2021 legislative accomplishments can be found HERE.