Schweitzer, Tester team up on Capitol Hill to expose ‘unseen costs’ of war

Montana Governor testifies about costs of health care for rural veterans

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Montana Senator Jon Tester today teamed up with Governor Brian Schweitzer at the U.S. Senate today to expose the "unseen costs" of caring for veterans wounded in Iraq—especially veterans living in Montana and rural America.

Tester introduced Schweitzer during a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee, which examined the war's impact on rising health care costs for veterans.

"Having more than a third of your state's Guard out of the country is a tough situation to inherit," Tester told the Committee, noting that when Schweitzer was elected in 2004, more than 1,500 members of the Montana National Guard were serving in Iraq. "We know the sacrifice for servicemembers and their families, and especially for Montana's National Guardsmen and Reservists."

Schweitzer spoke about the challenges of caring for veterans in a state the size of Montana.   He testified about the difficulty veterans in small towns face in finding mental health professionals able to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the extra burden on veterans and their families presented by the travel distances to both mental health and other medical services.  

Schweitzer also spoke about Chris Dana, a 23-year old Iraq veteran from Helena who took his own life last year after struggling with PTSD.  In response to Dana's suicide, the Montana National Guard established a PTSD task force and a plan to better council Guardsmen who suffer from PTSD.

"We can't put a value on the cost of losing Chris Dana," Schweitzer said in his written testimony.  "The greatest cost to Montana from the Global War on Terror, is, of course the immeasurable loss of soldiers, marines and sailors.  Nor can we easily quantify the cost to our families, communities and economy of soldiers and airmen unable to return to their job."

Schweitzer also said it would cost nearly $28 million to make the National Guard 100 percent ready for future missions.  The National Guard is a key part of the state's response to wildfire season, both for human resource and equipment and material.

Tester is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Last week, the Senate unanimously passed Tester's legislation to officially raise the VA's mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans from 11-cents to 28.5 cents per mile—the first increase in more than 30 years.

Schweitzer's written testimony for today's hearing is available online HERE.