Tester's vets health bill faces committee vote

Montana Standard

by Martin Kidston

HELENA – The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is expected to vote Thursday on legislation introduced by Sen. Jon Tester that would improve health care for rural veterans.

With national veteran organizations backing the legislation, it is expected to pass out of committee on Thursday's vote.

As written, the bill would lock in travel reimbursement to disabled veterans at 41.5 cents per mile and expand health care and medical services for all veterans who live in rural America, including the 110,000 veterans who live in Montana.

The bill would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to award grants to service groups that transport vets to medical appointments, and to allow the VA to work with community mental-health centers to provide services to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in areas where the VA cannot provide such care.

Tester said the legislation would also direct the VA to establish as many as five centers of excellence that would research how best to provide health care to rural veterans.

It would also establish Indian health coordinators in areas with a high Native American veteran population.

Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has tackled various issues affecting Montana veterans. He began his term in office by touring the state, listening to the needs expressed by state veterans.

Over the past two years, Tester helped convince the VA to raise the rate given to disabled veterans when traveling to medical appointments from 11 cents a mile to the current 41.5 cents per mile.

Thursday's hearing is expected to play live at www.veterans.senate.gov at around 7:30 a.m. MDT.