BREAKING: Senate Passes Key Provisions Secured by Tester to Support Veterans, Troops in 2023 Government Funding Bill
Chairman Tester helped craft bill to expand access to health care and deliver key benefits for veterans suffering from toxic exposures, filing disability claims, facing homelessness, living in rural areas; investments for troops and critical military programs
The Senate today passed an omnibus federal funding package consisting of 12 fiscal year 2023 appropriations bills championed by U.S. Senator Jon Tester—funding the government through September 2023 and delivering critical funding and provisions to expand medical care and benefits for veterans nationwide and support our military.
The package now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.
“It’s our responsibility to take care of the men and women in uniform who took care of us in protecting this country—and that starts by ensuring access to the care and benefits they’ve earned with this bipartisan package,” said Tester. “I’m proud the Senate came together to pass a full-year funding bill that’ll help us make good on that promise, including to our toxic-exposed veterans. These resources are critical in supporting veterans, troops, and military families across the country, and I won’t stop fighting until we get this bill signed into law.”
As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tester plays a key role in crafting the 12 bills that fund the federal government each year. Among the provisions secured, the Senator included critical resources to deliver toxic-exposed veterans their earned care and benefits under his historic Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. This funding will help aid implementation of the comprehensive law—ensuring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is able to bolster its workforce, improve resources to support claims processing, and more.
As part of his ongoing effort to end veterans homelessness, support veterans in rural areas, and strengthen oversight of VA’s Information Technology and procurement systems, the Senator successfully secured the following bills he authored:
- Building Solutions for Veterans Experiencing Homelessness Act of 2021—legislation to permanently cut red tape on capital grants provided by VA for organizations assisting veterans experiencing homelessness. It will ensure organizations have many of the necessary flexibilities to continue supporting veterans and avoid derailing their progress toward effectively ending veterans homelessness.
- Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act of 2021—bipartisan legislation to establish a pilot program to provide travel reimbursements for low-income veterans in advance of medical appointments and require the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct assessments on how to best support veterans traveling long distances to access essential care.
- Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Reform Act of 2021—bipartisan legislation Tester first introduced in 2019 to increase transparency, accountability, and improve performance of information technology systems and projects at VA.
- Veterans Prostate Cancer Treatment and Research Act—bipartisan legislation to expand VA treatment and research of prostate cancer, which is the number one cancer diagnosed by the Veterans Health Administration.
- VA Supply Chain Resiliency Act—bipartisan legislation to improve VA’s supply chain issues, as highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tester also secured the following provisions he authored to improve mental health care resources and suicide prevention efforts at VA:
- Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2021—bipartisan legislation to strengthen VA’s mental health care workforce, expand care options, and support mental health research at the Department.
- Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act—bipartisan legislation to improve the Veterans Crisis Line’s staff training, management, and response to veteran callers at risk of suicide.
- American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans Mental Health Act—bipartisan legislation requiring VA medical centers to consult with local tribes and deliver tailored outreach and culturally competent mental health care to Native veterans.
As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester has worked tirelessly to ensure Montana’s veterans and their families have the resources they need and earned. The bill provides VA with $134.7 billion in discretionary spending and $168.6 billion in mandatory spending. In addition, the bill provides advanced appropriations for fiscal year 2024, including $128.1 billion for veterans medical care and $155.4 billion for veterans benefits.
Among the veterans investments Tester successfully included are:
- $118.7 billion for VA medical care including:
- $13.9 billion for mental health;
- $5.2 billion to sustain and increase telehealth capacity, including in rural, highly rural, and underserved communities;
- $12.1 billion for veterans’ long-term care;
- $2.7 billion for veteran homelessness prevention;
- $1.9 billion for the Caregivers Program;
- $840.5 million for women’s health; and
- $337 million for rural health.
- $5.8 billion for information technology systems critical for cybersecurity and delivery of health care and benefits to veterans;
- $3.9 billion for VBA operating expenses and claims processors;
- More than $3 billion for VA infrastructure;
- Including $88.6 million for a Fort Harrison construction project improving infrastructure for better health care delivery and services for veterans
- $916 million for medical and prosthetics research, including in areas such as toxic exposures, traumatic brain injury, and precision oncology;
- $273 million for VA’s Office of Inspector General to continue aggressive oversight and investigations of waste, fraud, and abuse in VA programs; and
- $15 million for the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence to assist in better understanding the effects of exposure to open burn pits and airborne hazards on the health of veterans.
Continuing his push to increase oversight over the Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) Program, Tester also secured a provision to withhold 25 percent of VA’s budget for the Program until the VA Secretary reports to Congress on improvements made to the system’s stability, usability, patient safety and related issues to better protect veterans and taxpayers.
Among the military-related investments Tester successfully included are:
- $19 billion for military construction projects including:
- $2 billion for family housing;
- $93.4 million for Arlington National Cemetery and $62.5 million for the southern expansion;
- $293 million for Child Development Centers;
- $1.2 billion to support the Pacific Defense Initiative;
- $500 million for projects that support the European Defense Initiative;
- $220 million to fund the U.S. cost share of NATO Military Construction projects in the NATO Security Investment Program; and
- $200 million for perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid cleanup on closed military bases.
A summary of the 2023 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill is available HERE.