Senate unanimously passes Tester’s landmark veterans health care legislation

Tester’s bill will improve care for all veterans in Montana, rural America

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – All veterans living in Montana and across rural America will get better health care thanks to landmark legislation by Senator Jon Tester that cleared the U.S. Senate today.

Tester wrote the bipartisan Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which unanimously passed the Senate as part of a larger veterans bill.  Tester’s vote for the measure was his 1,000th vote in the U.S. Senate.

Before the vote, Tester—Montana’s only member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee—called on the Senate to “live up to the promises made” to the nation’s veterans.

“I’m going to boil it down to one reason,” Tester said.  “We promised it to all men and women who served in our military.  We promised it just as we promise our troops the resources they need when they answer the call of duty.”

Tester also urged his colleagues to recognize the unique challenges facing rural veterans.

“Montana is a rural state, which means all 100,000 veterans there are rural veterans,” Tester said.  “Many of them live in frontier communities. Sadly, that means they have a tougher time getting the health care they earned.”

Tester’s Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act will strengthen health care for rural veterans by:

  • Locking in the current travel reimbursement rate for disabled veterans who travel to a VA facility for health care at 41.5 cents per mile.  Tester worked with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) over the past two years to raise the rate from 11 cents per mile.
  • Authorizing the VA to award grants to veterans service organizations that drive veterans to their medical appointments. 
  • Directing the VA to establish American Indian health coordinators to improve care in areas with high American Indian veteran populations. 
  • Authorizing the VA to work with community mental health centers to provide mental health services to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in areas where the VA is unable to provide mental health care.

In addition to Tester’s measures, the overall bill will provide financial assistance to families who care for critically injured veterans and will improve care for female veterans.

“This legislation isn’t the be-all and end-all,” Tester said.  “But it’s a big step forward.  And it’s the result of putting politics aside – and working together – to do right by all men and women who served our country.”

Montana Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger, a Marine Corps veteran, said today’s passage of the bill will affect all of Montana’s veterans.

“The Schweitzer Administration has worked alongside Senator Tester in creating policies that improve our veterans access to the benefits to which they are entitled,” Bohlinger said.  “As Montana’s Yellow Ribbon Program and Mandatory Mental Health Screenings have been implemented nationally, Senator Tester’s bill will address the needs of our soldiers here in Montana and will bring great benefit to veterans across the country. Veterans who have previously had difficulty accessing services due to location, disability, or insufficient travel reimbursement will now be able to receive the benefits to which they are entitled and deserve.”

The legislation passed today must now be combined with the U.S. House of Representatives’ version of the bill before it is signed into law by the President.

Tester’s entire floor speech is available online HERE.