Baucus, Tester introduce bill to help vets in rural areas

Senators’ Measure Calls For Equal Pay, Mental Health & Disability Benefits

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Montana's U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester today introduced legislation that would help ensure that disabled veterans in rural areas – like Montana – receive the same pay and benefits as those in urban areas.

Recent news reports stated that veterans in Montana with combat-related mental health ailments receive far lower payments, on average, from the VA disability system than veterans in almost any other state. VA documents also show that veterans in Montana who began receiving compensation from the VA between the year 2005 and 2007 receive, on average, far less than the national average.

To help ensure that Montana veterans get benefits they have earned and deserve, Baucus and Tester teamed up to introduce legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to track the disability benefits veterans receive.

"Our veterans made a sacrifice by laying their lives on the line to protect the freedoms we enjoy every day as Montanans and Americans," Baucus said. "It is our civic duty to make sure our veterans get the care and benefits they need and deserve. Jon and I are working to make sure that folks in rural areas don't get the short end of the stick."

"Veterans in Montana are fed up with the disability ratings process, and I don't blame them," said Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  "It takes too long for a veteran to get his claim processed, and too many Montana veterans don't get the right rating.  This legislation will force the VA to tell us what it's doing to get this process fixed."

Baucus' and Tester's Bill Would:

  • Require the VA to submit periodic reports to the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on the VA's progress in addressing the variance in payments paid to disabled veterans across the country. 
  • The mandatory reports would include a description of how the VA is working to improve the quality of examinations of veterans with service-connected disabilities and an evaluation of whether the Veterans Benefits Administration has sufficient staff to properly serve America's veterans.
  • Also require the VA to report on differences in the submittal rate of disability claims to the VA among various groups of veterans, including rural veterans and veterans who served in the National Guard, and describe how the VA is working to eliminate such differences.

Baucus and Tester's legislation will go before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for its consideration.