Tester's VA Funding Bill Signed into Law
Senatorâ??s Legislation Will Boost VA Funding by $3.3 Billion, Increase Access to Care for Montana Veterans
(Big Sandy, Mont.)- Senator Jon Tester's bill to increase VA funding and modernize military facilities has been signed into law, making it the first time since 2008 that Congress has funded the VA before the beginning of the fiscal year.
Tester is the Ranking Member of the Senate Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, which is responsible for drafting the VA's annual budget, as well as determining funding for the Defense Department's major construction projects. Tester and Subcommittee chairman Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) wrote the 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill, which the president signed into law on Thursday.
The new law will increase funding for the VA by $3.3 billion.
"This bill provides additional resources that will increase veterans access to care at the VA and in their community," Tester said. "Over the past year, I have worked hard with Republicans and Democrats to craft a bill that does right by our veterans and supports our troops, and this bill accomplishes both."
The MilCon VA Appropriations Bill will provide funding for veterans' initiatives and military construction projects through September 30, 2017, and it is the first of 12 must-pass government funding bills to be signed into law this year.
Tester's MilCon VA Appropriations Bill will specifically provide:
- An additional $248 million to expand and improve VA facilities.
- $45 million increase for medical research initiatives - including prosthetic research.
- $2.86 billion for VA claims processing, and 300 new claims personnel focused on appeals and the non-rating workload at the Regional Offices.
- $156 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals, $46 million over last year, for the Board to increase its workforce by 240 employees who will specifically address the appellate backlog and reduce the time veterans wait after appealing a VA disability compensation ruling.
- $7.2 billion for the Medical Community Care account, which will help ensure that rural veterans and veterans needing specialized care are able to access health care treatment outside of the VA system and closer to where they live.
- $5.7 billion to treat the nearly one million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are seeking care through the VA.
- $1.2 billion to increase access to telehealth services for veterans in rural areas.
- $284 million for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury.
- $8.6 billion for long-term care and support for Vietnam-era veterans and older veterans from other wars.
- $7.9 billion to modernize facilities throughout the Defense Department.
Also included in Tester's bill is $14.6 million for a new missile maintenance facility at Malmstrom Air Force Base and language prohibiting the relocation of Malmstrom's Air Force Base's engineering unit known as RED HORSE.
The Milcon VA Appropriations Bill also includes a mandate that requires the VA to provide fertility services, including in vitro fertilization, to veterans and their spouses if their infertility was a direct result of a service-connected disability.
Additionally, Tester-authored provisions in the bill will provide mileage reimbursement to catastrophically disable veterans seeking disabilities rehabilitation at VA facilities and lay the groundwork for reforms included in the Veterans First Act to streamline the many VA community care programs into a single initiative.
Veterans across Montana and the country are once again praising Tester's efforts:
"We want to thank Senator Tester for his leadership, and for crafting a bill that will strengthen the mission at Malmstrom. Constructing the Missile Maintenance Dispatch facility will ensure Malmstrom is prepared to receive a new fleet of helicopters and better protect this nation's ICBM fleet," said David Weissman, Chairman of the Montana Defense Alliance.
"MOAA is grateful this legislation would provide an increase of nearly $2 billion over the current year, with additional funding to address treatment of hepatitis C, long-term care for veterans, caregiver support, and reduction of the claims backlog," said Lt Gen Dana Atkins, USAF (Ret), President of the Military Officers Association of America.
"The Blinded Veterans Association thanks Senator Tester for his recognition of the value of rehabilitation services for catastrophically disabled veterans and his commitment to insuring that those who need such services the most have access to them. This legislation will make it possible for a greater number of the brave men and women who have served our country to have access to the rehabilitation and care they need to live full and independent lives again. It fills a vital need in a fiscally responsible manner by reducing the veterans' need for assisted living and nursing home care," said Al Avina, Executive Director of the Blinded Veterans Association.
The bill was passed by the Senate 72-26 and was signed into law by the President on Thursday night.