Ahead of Veterans Day, Tester Honors Veterans at Bigfork High School Ceremony with Veterans, Students, Community

Senator: “Fighting and delivering for our veterans is how we truly thank them for keeping us free.”

U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today joined students, veterans, local officials, and community members at Bigfork High School to celebrate and honor Montana’s veterans.

“Veterans Day is a great opportunity to talk with our state’s future leaders about the kind of sacrifices our military men and women have made to keep us free—generation after generation. Montanans have a long and proud history of serving our nation,” said Tester. “No matter the decade, these men and women put their lives on the line to defend our freedom and protect our democracy. And they make our state the greatest in the country, and our country the greatest in the world.”

He continued, “The truth is, working alongside this community to support our veterans and their loved ones has been the highlight of my career in public service. Growing up as a kid in Big Sandy, I learned young about the service and sacrifice of our veterans when I played Taps at the VFW, for the funerals of veterans of both World Wars. It’s something that stuck with me, and I carry that with me to this day, where I take my cues directly from Montana vets, including many of the folks in this room.”

As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester has led the effort for years to improve Montana veterans’ access to their hard-earned care and benefits. This includes laws he wrote to deliver health care and benefits for toxic-exposed veterans and their families under the  PACT Actand improve veterans’ mental health care and services under the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act (Hannon Act) and STRONG Veterans Act.

The Senator underscored how the support of Montana veterans was critical to getting the PACT Actacross the finish line: “With your support and input, we passed the PACT Act. This law helps us deliver for veterans and their families across Montana in a very big way, and it was veterans like the ones here who never took their foot of the gas even if it meant sleeping on the steps of the Capitol, and pushed folks in DC every step of the way to get it done.”

Tester championed this law and shepherded its passage through Congress last year. As Chairman, he fought tirelessly for years alongside veterans and Veterans Service Organizations in Montana and across the nation to deliver generations of toxic-exposed veterans and survivors their earned care and benefits under the PACT Act. Named after Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson who died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service, this law provides health care for Post-9/11 combat veterans, creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure, expands the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of health conditions presumed to be caused by toxic exposures, which opens the door to additional benefits for veterans, and improves resources to support claims processing.

Since the PACT Act was signed into law in August 2022, VA has received more than one million PACT Act-related claims, including more than 5,500 from Montana veterans and survivors. More than 204,000 veterans with PACT Act-related eligibility have also enrolled in VA health care, including more than 2,100 veterans in Montana.

Tester has also led the push to build new, modernized facilities for veterans across the state. Building off these efforts, VA announced in May that Flathead area veterans will receive a new, expanded clinic in Kalispell following sustained work from Tester with veterans and community members to secure the clinic that will better serve a growing veteran population in Northwest Montana.