Tester Advances VA Funding Bill with Major Wins for Montana
Senate Passes Funding Bill with Tester-Authored Provisions for Montana Veterans, National Guard
(U.S. Senate) - The U.S. Senate today passed a bipartisan government funding agreement that strengthens the VA for Montana veterans and delivers a new C-130 aircraft apron for the Montana Air National Guard. This agreement is the result of weeks of negotiating between the House and Senate.
Tester secured additional funding for VA health care and for the VA Caregiver Support Program, which Tester recently expanded to veterans of all eras. The compromise bill also includes Tester's amendment to protect the independence of the Inspector General, the office responsible for investigating misconduct and waste of taxpayer money.
"This bill honors the sacrifice of Montana veterans by making sure the VA can provide healthcare and benefits worthy of their service," said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "Serving our veterans is a cost of war, and we must never back down from that responsibility. I urge the House to quickly vote on this bill so we can get it to the President's desk to be signed into law."
Tester fought to include the following provisions:
• Additional $750 million for in-house VA medical care.
• $865 million for the VA Caregiver Support Program, an increase of $369m.
• $380 million for supportive services for homeless veterans, an increase of $60m.
• $54 million for Justice Outreach Homeless Prevention Program.
• Additional $87 million to hire additional claims and appellate staff to tackle the disability appeals backlog and to hire more Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment counselors.
• Additional $10 million for resources and care for women veterans and language requiring the VA to outline a plan to retrofit medical facilities to eliminate barriers to care for women veterans.
• Additional $16 million to provide mental health and improve the VA's suicide prevention efforts.
• Additional $20 million for rural health care.
• Additional $30 million for telehealth care, particularly in rural and remote areas.
• $5 million to convert research findings on burn pits into clinical applications.
• A requirement that the VA notify Congress when a government contractor fails to do its job.
• A requirement that VA begin tracking debts that are accrued by veterans, and whether they were the result of errors or delays by VA.
Tester also doubled down on his efforts to strengthen Malmstrom Air Force Base by securing $9 million to build a new aircraft apron to park the Guard's C-130s and fighting to prevent the RED HORSE Squadron from getting permanently shipped out of Montana.
"The men and women of the Montana National Guard represent the very best of Montana while deploying to war zones and battling disasters here at home," said Tester. "This investment will strengthen the mission at the Montana Air National Guard and make sure that our C-130's stay in fighting shape for years to come."
After the Senate and House of Representatives passed separate 2019 Military Construction and Veterans' Affairs Appropriations Bills, both sides met to negotiate any differences and agree on a compromise bill. After the Senate's vote of 95-5, the House of Representatives is expected to take it up soon and then send it to the President's desk by the September 30th deadline.