Tester introduces bill to improve health care for rural veterans

Senator’s sweeping legislation expands benefits for thousands of Montanans

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today introduced a major piece of legislation to expand benefits for thousands of Montanans and millions of other Americans who live in rural areas.

Senator Jon Tester’s Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2009 makes several sweeping changes to health care benefits:

  • MILEAGE REIMBURSEMENT: Locks in the current travel reimbursement rate for disabled veterans who travel for health care at 41.5 cents per mile.  Over the last two years, Tester got the Veterans Administration (VA) to boost the rate from 11 cents to 41.5 cents per mile.
  • VETS VAN GRANTS: Authorizes the VA to award grants to the Disabled American Veterans and other service groups that transport veterans to their medical appointments.
  • INDIAN HEALTH CARE: Directs the VA to establish Indian Health Coordinators in areas with a high Native American veterans population to improve the care given to Native veterans.
  • MENTAL HEALTH CARE: Authorizes the VA to work with community mental health centers to provide mental health services to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in areas where the VA is unable to provide mental health care.
  • NEW RESEARCH: Directs the VA to establish as many as five centers of excellence for rural health research.  The centers will research how best to provide health care to rural veterans.
  • DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS: Authorizes the VA to continue a number of demonstration projects to improve the health of rural veterans.  The Senate Appropriations Committee, on which Tester serves, set aside $250 million for demonstration projects to improve health care for rural veterans for fiscal year 2009.

“There are a few big parts to this bill, but they all improve health care promised to the folks who fought for our country—especially veterans who live in rural states like Montana,” Tester said.  “We got this done after hearing from and working with a lot of veterans across Montana. And working together, we’ll keep pushing it through the Senate.”

Tester expects the bill to earn bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate.

Tester said he sponsored the bill after working closely with veterans and veterans’ service organizations across Montana.

Here is what Montana veterans’ leaders are saying about Tester’s Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act:

  • Mike Clouse, Montana DAV Commander: “I appreciate what Jon is doing for Montana’s veterans.  This legislation will strengthen support for rural veterans across the nation, it will boost transportation opportunities in rural America, and it will help our Native American fellow servicemen and women.”
  • Abe Abramson, Member of the national Veterans Rural Health Advisory Committee: “Montana veterans have Jon on their side in the Senate. This bill was written with our input, and it’s going do a lot of good things for thousands of Montanans.  All veterans deserve access to quality health care, no matter where they live.”
  • Dave MacLean, former Montana Commander of the American Legion: “There are so many pieces of this legislation that will benefit veterans in Montana and across the country—especially in finding ways to improve mental health care for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Jon’s taken a national lead on veterans issues.”