To All Veterans: Thank You!

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Senator Jon Tester

Every Veterans Day, Montanans unite to say thank you to our veterans and to pay our respects to those who fought for — and died for — our country. We will never forget the sacrifices and the dedication of America's veterans.

It's also a chance for us to renew our commitment to all who serve in our military and their families.

I have the honor of serving on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. We've been busy over the past two years, holding 57 hearings and taking testimony from more than 300 witnesses.

I traveled all across our state to reach out and hear directly from Montana's veterans. I hired a veteran who is dedicated to helping other veterans with their casework. And I hosted the U.S. Secretary of Veterans' Affairs on a visit to Montana so he could see for himself our needs here in the Treasure State.

Serving on the Veterans' Affairs Committee is an honor because I have a front-row seat in shaping policy that affects Montana's 100,000 veterans. And I get to take their input directly to Congress.

We've got a long way to go to live up to the promises made to America's veterans. But in the Senate, we're making good progress. We didn't do it alone. It took hard work and open lines of communication, teaming up with veterans in Bozeman and across Montana.

For example, after hearing from thousands of Montana veterans last year, I got the VA to raise the VA's mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans who travel for their health care from 11 cents to 28.5 cents per mile. It was the first time that that rate had been raised in 30 years. Montanans can take credit for shining a light on this issue.

Just a few weeks ago, Congress passed legislation boosting the VA's mileage reimbursement rate again — this time to 41.5 cents per mile. We also lowered the monthly deductible veterans must pay back down to $6 per round trip. The president has already signed our legislation into law.

The president also signed into law our 21st Century G.I. Bill.

The new G.I. Bill picks up the tab for college for post-9/11 veterans — up to $13,610 per veteran per year in Montana. It also provides them a living stipend of $888 per month in our state. All told, the 21st Century G.I. Bill is worth more than $15 million in benefits for Montana veterans next year alone. It will do what the last G.I. Bill did 60 years ago — lay the foundation for a stronger middle class to rebuild America.

Congress also passed the biggest funding increase in the history of the VA. We passed sweeping legislation to improve care for traumatic brain injuries and mental health care. And in Montana, we opened up two new VA clinics and expanded the clinic in Billings.

But again, all this happened because of the hard work of the veterans who live here. We owe no less to the folks who put their lives on the line for us.

To all veterans — thank you for your dedication, your sacrifice, and your commitment to Montana and our country. God bless America.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is a third generation farmer from Big Sandy.