(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester today announced that he secured $17 billion in the COVID-19 relief package for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to vaccinate, support and protect veterans in Montana and across the country.
“This bill will boost vaccine distribution and outreach efforts to ensure we get more shots into veterans’ arms, regardless of where they live,” said Chairman Tester. “With folks seeking care and services from VA more than ever, these additional tools will expand health care options, employment assistance, and supportive services to meet the urgent needs of veterans and families. I’ll keep pushing this proposal on behalf of our nation’s veterans—and all Americans—who need this targeted relief to get on the other side of this crisis.”
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 Senate successfully cleared the following provisions today championed by Tester:
- $14.5 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.
- $1 billion to deliver VA health care copayment relief by waiving medical debts and billing during the pandemic.
- $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. This includes approximately $1.53 million in emergency funding for Montana’s State Veterans Homes.
- $272 million for VA to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the benefits claims and appeals backlog.
- $100 million for accelerated deployment of VA’s supply chain modernization initiative to improve the Department’s preparedness and response to public health emergencies.
- $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.
- $80 million to establish an emergency fund to provide paid leave to VA personnel.
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 bolster vaccine distribution efforts, address deferred health care needs, tackle the claims backlog, provide job training opportunities, assist State Veterans Homes by mitigating funding gaps, and waive health care copayments for veterans during the economic crisis. On February 27, he successfully cleared a number of provisions in the COVID package through the U.S. House of Representatives to support veterans.