Senate approves significant investment in veterans programs, jobs for Great Falls

Tester, Baucus secure funding for Malmstrom, veterans’ services

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved a measure that will make a major investment in jobs in Great Falls and will significantly improve veterans’ health care, Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus announced today.

Tester, a member of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, and Baucus secured the funding for Malmstrom Air Force Base and for better veterans’ services in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act.

“This funding means that Malmstrom will continue to play a critical role in our national security,” said David Weissman, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce's Central Montana Defense Alliance.  “We want to thank Senators Tester and Baucus for their unwavering support of the base and its mission.  Malmstrom is a key ingredient to the economic stability of the Central Montana region.”

“We appreciate the continued support of our Montana delegation,” said Colonel Michael Fortney, Commander of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base. “These projects will enhance our ability to conduct our vital mission here at Malmstrom.”

“This investment is good news for Great Falls because it will create good-paying jobs and give our Airmen a better place to work,” said Tester, who also serves on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  “This funding means putting folks back to work while bolstering the vital role Malmstrom plays in our national defense.”

“These projects are about making Montana—and the people who live here—stronger and safer,” said Baucus, who worked closely with Tester to secure the funding.  “I’m proud to support these smart investments in the men and women who work every day to protect our communities.”

The bill also includes funding for the Veterans Administration (VA) to hire 1,200 new staff to evaluate veterans’ disability benefits claims and help end what Tester calls the VA’s “unacceptable backlog” of disability claims.

The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act includes the following investments:

  • Malmstrom Air Force Base:
    • Upgrades to the weapons storage area, construction of storage facilities to house explosives and to upgrade infrastructure ($9,600,000).
    • Funding to expand a National Guard facility to include a new Armed Forces Reserve Center ($7,600,000).
  • Veterans:
    • Funding to hire 1,200 new staff nationwide to evaluate veterans’ claims and help end the VA’s backlog of claims.
    • Funding to maintain the VA’s mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans at 41.5 cents per mile, as secured by Tester last year.
    • Funding to continue the VA’s Rural Health Care Initiative, begun last year, which aims to improve services to rural and Native American veterans.
    • Funding to expand the VA’s homelessness prevention efforts, such as the Willis Cruse House in Helena.

Tester also included language in the bill directing the National Cemetery Administration to study the possibility of establishing a National Veterans Cemetery in the Northwestern United States.  Tester’s language requires the Administration to give consideration to the new Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery in Laurel.

The Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act must now be combined with the House’s version of the bill before being signed into law by the President.