Local veteran supports Tester's bill securing vets home in Butte

by NBC Montana, Justin Ayer

BUTTE, Mont – Local veterans are lobbying hard for a bill sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester under consideration in Washington. If passed, it would free up $10 million for a new veterans home.

For 10 years Southwest Montana United Veterans Council Commander Mike Lawson said he’s been fighting for funding. Lawson and others are looking for $10 million to build a veterans home in Butte that he said is long overdue.

“The problem has been with the VA. We’ve been on their priority list. Once you’re on their priority list, you never get off it,” Lawson said.

Montana has raised $5 million already from a cigarette tax implemented in 2007, but Lawson said it isn’t enough.

Despite about 35,000 veterans calling southwest Montana home, raising the additional money has been a struggle.

“It’s a bigger veteran populated area. They keep bumping us down. We have not been able to get that $10 million. It’s there at some point, it’s guaranteed, but we keep getting bumped,” Lawson said.

That’s where Tester said his new bipartisan bill comes in. It includes language that prevents a veterans home in Butte from falling further down the list.

It’s a crucial next step, according to State Rep. Ryan Lynch (D-Butte).

“It changes the priority in the order. It will allow for Montana to remain in line rather than having higher population states leapfrogging,” Lynch said.

Lynch said the home will serve six counties in southwest Montana and will provide both medical services and a place to live to about 60 veterans.

Lawson tells NBC Montana all they need is 10 acres to build a 60-bed home on a piece of land in downtown Butte.

With Tester’s help, Lawson said he’s confident the bill will get signed.

“There’s some positive things happening. Some good things that are in the wind if, in fact, they do sign that. I’m going to be pessimistic and say that it will,” Lawson said.

As for the next steps, Lawson said they’re waiting for the bill to be scheduled for a committee hearing.

If it passes, the House would have to draft and approve its own version before it becomes law.