Great Falls Tribune: Senate sends National Defense Authorization Act benefiting Malmstrom to President's desk

The U.S. Senate on Friday passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which would support Montana’s military installations, service members, veterans and military families.

The bipartisan bill, supported by Montana’s U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

The annual defense bill includes provisions, such as a 3% pay raise to all service members, hazard pay and 180 days of medical care for National Guard and Reserve service members on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release.

The bill also contains maintenance and modernization for bases with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), including Malmstrom Air Force Base. Among other provisions, the bill allocates $278 million for ICBM research, development, test and evaluation.

The legislation also includes $655 million for the Air Force to purchase seven additional C-130J aircraft and $140 million for C-130H upgrades.

Included in the bill is the Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act, which secures medical coverage for Vietnam veterans impacted by Agent Orange, a hazardous substance used in chemical warfare.

National Commander James Oxford of the American Legion said the support for Vietnam veterans is long overdue.

“… We urge President Trump to sign the measure into law when Congress sends him this critical legislation and end the waiting for many of our nation’s ill veterans so they can receive the benefits they have rightly earned,” he said in a statement.

The bill also authorizes $44 million for vaccine and biotechnology research in a COVID-19 response.

Tester called the passage of the bill a “victory for the critical investments we need to make to our nation’s military and national defense.”

“Once signed into law, this package will strengthen our ICBM mission, bolster the modernization efforts of our Air National Guard’s C-130 fleet, and provide much-needed support to Montana’s men and women in uniform,” he said in a statement.

Daines said the bill “ensures America maintains the best military in the world.”

“I will always work to ensure our troops and veterans who served our country have the support they need,” he said in a statement.