Tester: Veterans of new Iraq mission deserve same benefits as previous combat veterans

Senator’s legislation would preserve benefits for veterans of ‘Operation New Dawn’

(BIG SANDY, Mont.) – Citing the hundreds of Montanans on their way to serve in Iraq, Senator Jon Tester has introduced legislation to ensure veterans of the new Iraqi mission are offered the same benefits that combat veterans have received since the start of the war.

Combat operations in Iraq called Operation Iraqi Freedom ended on Sept. 1.  The American mission in Iraq is now known as Operation New Dawn.

Because veterans’ benefits can change under each new mission, veterans of New Dawn might not be eligible for some of the health care offered to veterans of Iraqi Freedom.  Tester’s legislation would ensure access to mental health, nursing home and hospital care for veterans returning from the new mission.

“It is absolutely critical that the nearly 50,000 men and women still in harm’s way under Operation New Dawn receive the exact same level of care that troops who served under Operation Iraqi Freedom do,” said Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director and Founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  “Congress must uphold their responsibility to treat every single servicemember with equality and dignity. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America strongly supports this legislation, and commends Senator Tester for taking the lead on such an important issue.”

“Official combat operations may be over, but we know that the hundreds of brave Montanans headed overseas will still be harm’s way while they valiantly serve our country,”  said Tester, who also worked with the American Legion in writing the legislation.  “When they come home, they’ll have earned the same benefits as the folks who served in Iraq before them.  And we’ve got to make sure those benefits don’t get hung up on technicalities.”

The National Guard Association of the United States also supports Tester’s bill.

“Our members are concerned that veterans’ benefits specifically awarded by law for service in Operation Iraqi Freedom may be legally denied to those who serve in Operation New Dawn without legislation correcting this technicality,” National Guard Association president, retired Major General Gus Hargett, wrote to Tester.

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado is a cosponsor of Tester’s legislation.

“Although the President has stated that our combat mission in Iraq has officially ended, we still have tens of thousands of troops serving honorably in a treacherous situation in Iraq.  They deserve to receive the veteran benefits they have earned and will continue to earn while they remain overseas,” Bennet said.  “Our troops have answered the call of duty and have dedicated themselves to keeping us safe, and we need to assure them and their families that we recognize their risks and sacrifice.”

More than 700 Montana National Guardsmen will be serving in Iraq serving as part of Operation New Dawn by year’s end.  

Tester’s Operation New Dawn legislation is available online, HERE.  Senator Max Baucus plans to cosponsor the legislation.