Havre Daily News: Tester celebrates passage of Cmdr. John Scott Hannon veterans bill

by Rachel Jamieson

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., held a press call Thursday where he provided updates on his efforts in combating COVID-19 in Montana, the second CARES Act package, his recent bipartisan landmark veterans’ mental health bill, Amtrak and more.

“Late last week, I had a groundbreaking piece of legislation pass called the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care and Improvement Act,” Tester said. “It is a bill named after a Montana veteran. It will bolster Veterans Affairs’ ability to help heal invisible wounds of war and it’ll do it multiple ways and increasing access to care, alternative therapies and local treatment options.”

He said he couldn’t have been more proud to have worked alongside the Hannon family, veterans and veterans service organizations, working with the VA, mental health care advocates to get this piece or landmark legislation across the finish line.

“We never missed a beat and we just kept pushing and just kept pushing, and we got out of committee with an unanimous vote, which is no small thing by the way and we got it out of the United States Senate with an unanimous vote and it may speak to the fact that this is a huge issue in the VA – mental health,” Tester said. “I think it was really an opportunity to take a look out how the entire Senate came together and the House as far as that matter goes, and got to the president’s desk last week for his signature.”

It is one of the signature pieces of veterans legislation in Congress, he said.

If implemented correctly it is going to do some pretty amazing things for veterans, he added.

He said he also recently introduced his Public Lands Leadership Act to ensure that William Perry Pendley, who he said has illegally occupied the head spot of U.S. Bureau of Land Management for the last year and a half, stays out of that position.

A judge ruling on a lawsuit filed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock determined that Pendley’s role violated federal laws, Tester said.

“We need to ensure that the court order is obeyed, so that, quite frankly, he can’t do anymore damage to our public lands,and it’s important thing because Pendley has a record of really taking public lands out of public hands ,and that is not the direction we need to have, especially in the state of Montana where it contributes greatly to our economy,” he said.

This week, he said, Amtrak followed through with its proposal to cut the Empire Builder service down from seven days a week to three.

“My Republican colleagues in the Senate as well as the Trump administration have made it clear as crystal that they have no intention of providing Amtrak with enough funding to continue serving the Hi-Line,’ he said. “… Havre’s Paul Tuss provided a compelling testimony at the hearing (Wednesday), the Commerce Committee Hearing urging Congress to provide the aid the agency with the funding that it needs to ensure long-distance passenger rail service like the Empire Builder, so it can continue to help bolster the economies both rural and frontier communities.”

Tester said he has been working to ensure that funding for Amtrak is included in any COVID relief legislation.

He said he has talked to numerous people this week and does every week to give him an idea on where people are at in the progress of this coronavirus.

“Putting folks’ lives on the line for the sake of petty politics does not work for me and I will tell you the window is closing, but I’m going to continue to fight every day to make sure that we get a package that works for business, folks that are out of work, families that are out of work, local government units, make sure we have adequate testing and tracing, make sure we got money for transportation infrastructure including Amtrak and other issues are taken care of,” Tester said.

“Time is important here to get something done that actually addresses the problem,” he added.