Tester’s panel clears several measures for Montana’s veterans

Billings VA Clinic expansion and improvements to telehealth, GI Bill advance to full Senate

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester and his colleagues on the Veterans Affairs Committee have passed several measures to strengthen health care and benefits for Montana’s veterans, Tester announced today.

The Veterans Telehealth and Other Care Improvements Act, cosponsored by Tester, would:

  • Allow the VA to waive copayments for veterans who use VA telehealth facilities
  • Authorize work to expand Phase II of the Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Billings
  • Require the VA to study the possibility of constructing a new polytrauma rehabilitation center in the northern Rockies or Dakotas.  Senators Max Baucus and Tester wrote this provision after discussions with Montana Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger and his wife, Karen, whose son is a former Special Forces officer recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury

“From taking another step forward on Phase II of the Billings VA Clinic, to giving more support to veterans who depend on telehealth, to making the disability claims process work a little bit better, it was a good day for Montana’s veterans,” Tester said.  “I know Montana’s veterans expect our delegation to work for them every day.  That’s why I don’t rest on our accomplishments.  I’ll keep fighting for our veterans every single day.”

“Montana has one of the highest rates of veterans in the entire nation,” Baucus said. “Our men and women in uniform are some of the bravest and most noble people in our state, and it is up to us to make sure they are taken care of when they come home- these measures do just that. I’m especially pleased that my provision to study the feasibility of building a traumatic brain injury center in Montana was included.  These measures are one more step towards making sure every Montana service member has access to the quality health care they deserve, so they can get back to their lives.”

The VA recently opened telehealth centers in Plentywood and Hamilton.  Telehealth capabilities are already available at three Indian reservation in Montana to better serve American Indian veterans.

Baucus’ and Tester’s provision also would require an assessment of the effectiveness of traumatic brain injury rehabilitation programs in urban versus rural settings, and whether the low cost of living in the region could reduce the financial burden on families of a veteran undergoing care for such injuries.

Tester and his colleagues today also approved a major fix to the 21st Century GI Bill, allowing veterans enrolled full-time in online education to receive a partial housing allowance.  It also makes several changes, long sought by Montana’s schools, to how the VA repays colleges and universities for the administrative costs of handling GI Bill claims.

The Committee also cleared numerous improvements to the VA’s disability claims process, including the creation of a pilot program on collaboration with tribal governments to improve the quality of claims by tribal veterans submitted for disability compensation.