Sen. Tester to welcome wounded warriors to Montana Friday

Clark Fork Chronicle

U.S. Senator Jon Tester will welcome wounded veterans to Montana this Friday, January 7, during the opening ceremony of Operation Sports, Afield and Stream in Big Sky. The annual five-day event is presented by Operation Never Forgotten, a national volunteer organization dedicated to helping wounded veterans and their families.

Participants will spend the weekend enjoying various winter sports around Big Sky. Friday night’s opening ceremonies will feature country music star and Operation Never Forgotten spokesman Lee Greenwood as the Master of Ceremonies.

Tester, Montana’s only member of the Veterans’ Affairs committee, authored the Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act, which was signed into law last year. The bill will improve transportation, mental health care, research, and demonstration projects for rural veterans. It also ensures the travel reimbursement rate for veterans who travel for health care is 41.5 cents per mile.

Tester also backed a measure extending eligibility under the 21st Century GI Bill to include National Guardsmen who served in some homeland security roles since September 11, 2001. After helping to pass the measure in the U.S. Senate, Tester last month called on the House of Representatives to pass the legislation. The bill passed the House and was signed into law by the President Tuesday.

“We’re kicking off the New Year right by taking one more step to fulfill Congress’ promise to the nation’s veterans,” said Tester, a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “We’ve seen some huge victories for America’s veterans these past few years, including the new GI Bill. But Montanans didn’t send me to the Senate to sit idle on my accomplishments. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure Congress lives up to its end of the bargain for the brave folks who’ve stood up to defend our freedom.”

Tester was one of the earliest supporters of the new GI Bill in 2008. Since taking effect, the law has opened up educational opportunities for thousands of Montana veterans who have served on active duty in the military since the terrorist attacks of 2001.

The new law extends eligibility to National Guardsmen who served in certain state homeland security roles after September 11, 2001.

More than 300 Montana National Guardsmen were activated to help protect Montana airports after 9/11 or served on the southwest border as part of Operation Jump Start.

Under the new legislation, those Guardsmen would receive service credit for their participation in these operations. The law still requires Guardsmen to have a minimum of 90 days of active duty since September 11, 2001, in order to be eligible for an education benefit.

The law also:

  • Allows veterans enrolled in vocational or technical education programs to receive tuition assistance
  • Authorizes up to $1,000 book allowance to individuals while on active duty
  • Increases financial support to colleges and universities to help ensure timely and accurate processing of GI Bill claims
  • Allows veterans enrolled full-time in online education to receive a partial housing allowance