Tester’s bill for rural veterans passes key hurdle

Committee approves legislation to expand health care

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester’s bill to improve health care for veterans living in Montana and across rural America has cleared its first hurdle.

Tester’s measure was included in the Caregiver and Veterans Health Services Act (S. 801). The Committee approved the measure unanimously. The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

“I went back to Montana, heard from veterans, came back to this committee and was able to put some good things in this bill,” said Tester, who introduced the legislation in March after working closely with veterans and service organizations across Montana.  “I think that this is a good step forward in the right direction. And it shows what working together can accomplish.  And there’s no better group that we need to support than the veterans of this country.”

Tester noted all 100,000 veterans living in Montana are considered rural veterans.

Tester’s legislation would improve health care for rural veterans by:

  • Locking in the current travel reimbursement rate for disabled veterans who travel in their own vehicles for health care at 41.5 cents per mile. (Over the past two years, Tester got the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs [VA] to raise the rate to 41.5 cents per mile from 11 cents per mile).
  • Authorizing the VA to award grants to service groups such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) that transport veterans to their medical appointments. 
  • Directing the VA to establish Indian Health Coordinators in areas with high Native American veteran populations to improve the care given to Indian veterans. 
  • Authorizing  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.
  • Directing 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.

Disabled Veterans of America (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Enlisted Association of National Guardsmen of the United States (EANGUS), Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Retired Enlisted Association have also expressed support for Tester’s bill.

Tester’s Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act (S. 658) is available online HERE.


What Montana leaders are saying…

“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.”

—Mike Clouse, Montana DAV Commander

“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.”

—Abe Abramson, National Veterans Rural Health Advisory Committee

“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.”

—Dave MacLean, former Montana Commander of the American Legion