Tester anxious to improve vets’ care and benefits

Senator supports Dole-Shalala recommendations

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester today threw his support behind several sweeping changes to the VA health care and benefits system, which will make life easier for thousands of American veterans.

This morning, Tester heard testimony from former senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala during a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Dole and Shalala are co-chairs of a presidential commission asked to recommend ways of improving health care for wounded veterans.

Dole and Shalala made six major recommendations, with 34 specific steps, last July.  During today's hearing, they spoke to the Veterans Affairs Committee about the need to streamline the government's system for providing payments to disabled vets.  The Dole-Shalala recommendations include:

  • Establishing     a two-tiered disability system—one for those injured in combat or combat     training, and one for non-combat injuries.
  • Replacing     the current Department of Defense payment system with one that works more     like private-sector workers comp systems, providing yearly payments based     on severity of injury and time in service.  Dole and Shalala believe     the current system is unfair to many younger service members.
  • Improving     prevention and treatment programs for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and     Traumatic Brain Injury to coincide with better family support     programs.  The new program will allow spouses and parents of injured     service members six weeks of paid leave under Family Medical Leave Act.

The VA Committee is expected to turn the Dole-Shalala recommendations into legislation in the coming weeks.

"I'm anxious to turn the ideas of this bipartisan commission into law.  The VA and Department of Defense need more resources, but there also needs to be a change in the way the system works," said Tester, who held his tenth listening session for Montana veterans in Miles City last weekend. "We need a better system to serve all vets who've put their lives on the line for our country."

Tester has already secured $125 million in federal funding for his legislation raising the VA's travel reimbursement rate for disabled vets from 11-cents to 25-cents per mile.  Those funds are awaiting final approval from the Congress and the White House.