Tester: Senate panel advances major improvements for Montana veterans

Measure funds key transportation initiative in Tester’s Rural Veterans law

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester and his colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee have passed legislation that includes significant improvements in health care for veterans who live in Montana and across rural America.

The Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act contains funding for the Rural Health Initiative.  The effort improves medical care, including telehealth and mobile clinics, for veterans in rural and frontier areas, including Indian Country.  Since it was first funded two years ago, the Rural Health Initiative has been used to fund two mobile clinics in Montana and establish telehealth on most of Montana’s reservations. 

The legislation also funds grants for veterans service organizations—such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV)—to transport veterans in rural areas from their homes to VA facilities.  This measure is a key element of Tester’s landmark Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which was signed into law in May.

"Any additional vans that the DAV can acquire will help significantly to get our veterans to their appointments and hopefully ease their stress on how to get there,” said Thomas J. Snell, Montana DAV Adjutant.  “I would like to see our entire state covered and no veteran is left behind.  We have a great system in place and would welcome growth to serve our veterans better."

“In the months and years ahead, we’re going to keep seeing more folks coming back from serving in uniform, and we need to be ready,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Veterans Affairs Committee.  “These are good steps forward on that front, and I’ll keep fighting to make sure Congress keeps its promise to the men and women who put their lives on the line for our freedom.”

“This funding is so important for our veterans in Montana who often have to travel long distances to get the health care they not only need, but they deserve.” Baucus said. “Montanans are among the first to answer the call to duty. We’ve got among the highest number of veterans in the Country per capita. We’ve got to answer the call to care for our veterans when they come home. This funding will bring care closer to where our Montana veterans live and raise their children and grandchildren.”

The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act also contains funding for new Vet Centers, especially on American Indian Reservations, and for new Community Based Outpatient Clinics in rural areas.  Community Based Outpatient Clinics provide primary care to veterans, while Vet Centers provide counseling to help veterans readjust to civilian life after deployment and provide assistance with disability claims.

Following a request by Tester, the VA announced last August that it will open two new Vet Centers in Great Falls and Kalispell.  Tester had made the requests, along with Montana’s Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger, in a face-to-face meeting with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act must now pass the full Senate and the U.S. House before it can be signed into law by the President.