Tester-Backed COVID-19 Relief Bill for Montana Vets Clears House Hurdle

(U.S. Senate) – The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee cleared key provisions backed by Chairman Jon Tester of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that will provide critical COVID-19 relief funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to better protect veterans in Montana and across the country.

“My House colleagues cleared a number of my critical provisions in the COVID-19 relief bill today, bringing us one step closer to delivering assistance and vaccines to those who’ve worn the uniform,” said Chairman Tester. “Now more than ever, we need a smart, targeted package that’ll address the most urgent needs of our veterans—regardless of whether they live in Big Sandy or the Big Apple. I’ll keep pushing this bicameral package until it crosses the finish line in Congress, because it goes the extra mile in providing veterans in Montana and beyond with the support they need to weather this pandemic.”

Chairman Tester has worked tirelessly to ensure that Montana’s veterans and their families have the resources they need to stay safe during the pandemic. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee successfully cleared the following provisions today championed by Tester:

·       $272 million for VA to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the benefits claims and appeals backlog.

·       $13.5 billion for VA to provide health care services and related support to eligible veterans, including COVID-19 vaccine distribution, expanded mental health care, enhanced telehealth capabilities, extended support for veterans who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless, and PPE and supplies for clinical employees.

·       $100 million for accelerated deployment of VA’s supply chain modernization initiative to improve the Department’s preparedness and response to public health emergencies. 

·       $750 million for VA to support COVID-19 response, staff and veteran safety, and preparedness at State Veterans Homes through one-time payments to support operations and additional construction grants to support shovel-ready projects.

·       $10 million for the VA Office of Inspector General to provide oversight.

·       $386 million for up to 12 months of retraining assistance for veterans who are unemployed due to COVID-19 and do not have other veteran education benefits.

·       Language delivering VA health care copayment relief by waiving medical debts and billing during the pandemic, as well as costs for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination services at the Department.

Earlier this month, Tester met with President Joe Biden and Senate leaders to discuss a comprehensive COVID-19 relief plan, where he highlighted the urgent need to increase vaccine production to better protect veterans—especially those in rural areas across Montana. He later took to the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to support a COVID-19 relief plan to provide additional resources to address veteran priorities such as increasing access to mental health care and job training programs, bolstering the safety of veterans and staff at VA facilities and State Veterans Homes, and waiving VA health care copayment debts and billing during the economic crisis.