Tester pushes VA leaders on next steps to improve veterans services in Montana

Senator fights for needed resources for rural veterans

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester today met with two of the VA’s top leaders to outline new steps the agency can take to strengthen veterans’ services in Montana.

Tester met with Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth, pushing for improved GI Bill benefits for new veterans, and for a National Veterans Cemetery designation for the Yellowstone County Veterans’ Cemetery in Laurel.

Shinseki pledged to explore ways to improve the VA’s process for allocating resources so that rural areas get the facilities and health care providers needed to better serve veterans.

“Today, I had another opportunity to give feedback from Montanans to the top brass at the VA,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  “These folks are both decorated veterans, so they get it.  My job is to make sure Montana has a seat at the table, and to make sure we never pull the rug out from under America’s war heroes.”

Tester also discussed ways to better coordinate services for American Indian veterans.

Tester was one of the earliest supporters of the 21st Century GI Bill in 2008.  Since taking effect, the law has opened up educational opportunities for thousands of Montana veterans who have served on active duty in the military since the terrorist attacks of 2001.

However, veterans who are overpaid GI Bill benefits for a single semester, even as a result of administrative error, may find themselves subject to debt collection by the government.  Montana colleges and universities, as well as veterans service organizations, have recently raised the issue with Tester.

Shinseki responded that he would personally investigate the issue.

Tester’s meetings come days after he announced that the VA has approved construction to double the size of the Billings VA Clinic, expanding services for veterans and creating as many as 70 new jobs.