Great Falls Tribune: Sen. Jon Tester among Senators advocating for free COVID-19 tests for veterans

by Nicole Girten

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester joined colleagues from the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in advocating veterans across the country receive at-home COVID-19 rapid tests at no cost from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a committee press release Thursday.

Committee Chairman Tester, the sole Democrat in the Montana congressional delegation, was joined by Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in writing a letter to the VA Secretary Denis McDonough, citing the “unprecedented surge of COVID-19 and the omicron variant across the nation.”

COVID-19 has surged in the veteran population across the country, with over 55,000 active cases and 3,100 hospitalizations recorded last week, according to the release. The VA also saw employee cases double since what was seen last winter with nearly 13,000 health-care workers having to take time off.

“”[W]e must ensure veterans are not left behind in this effort to expand testing access…[they] deserve to have every available tool to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19, and at-home tests are one useful approach for limiting the spread within communities and VA facilities,” Senators wrote in the letter.

In the letter, the Senators point out the VA has obligated $458 million of the $14.5 billion appropriated for VA medical care in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) as of Jan. 18, outside of other federal COVID-19 related funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and The Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

“With this level of resources, VA should be able to fulfill its statutory obligation to provide veterans with at-home COVID-19 testing with no cost-sharing,” the letter read.

Free CareStart COVID-19 rapid tests will be available in Cascade County starting Sunday, according to an update from Montana Gov. Gianforte’s office on Thursday.

Distribution in Cascade County will be located at 615 Central Ave W, according to the MT Department of Public Health and Human Services website

Days / Hours of At-Home Rapid Test Distribution: Monday and Friday; 10 a.m. – noon; 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

Email for questions:

The state posted 2,978 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing Montana’s total active confirmed reports to 18,090 cases.

Montana reported 2,990 total deaths, the same total as Wednesday’s update, and 314 active hospitalizations from the virus, 12 less than Wednesday, according to the state website

Cascade County reported 443 new cases and now has 1,572 active cases.

The county reported another confirmed COVID-19 death, an unvaccinated female in her 70s with underlying health conditions, according to City-County Health Department spokesperson Ben Spencer on Thursday. This brings the total to 291 persons lost to the virus in the county.

Of the state’s eligible population, 54% are fully vaccinated. Of the county’s eligible population, 49% are fully immunized against the virus.

The first case of COVID-19 in Montana was reported on March 11, 2020.

Missoula County added 595 cases of COVID-19 for a total of 2,787 cases in the county. Lewis and Clark County added 316 cases for a total of 1,335 cases. Gallatin County added 313 cases for a total of 2,644 cases. Yellowstone County added 286 cases for a total of 3,206 cases. Flathead County added 189 cases for a total of 1,240 cases.