Tester introduces new legislation to support health care, employment for veterans, military families

Senator makes veterans top priority in 114th Congress

(U.S. Senate) – Making veterans a top priority in the 114th Congress, Senator Jon Tester authored more legislation to expand access to care for veterans and their families.

Tester introduced and sponsored six more bipartisan bills to expand health care access for service members, veterans and their families.

“Living up to the promises we make to our troops, our veterans and their families is a task that we can’t ever ignore,” Tester said. “These bills will improve the care that all veterans receive and ensure that military families can stay together and support themselves while serving our country.”

Tester’s bill include:

The Military Family Relief Act

This bill expedites the process through which the VA provides survivor benefits to recently widowed spouses of disabled veterans.

By law, a surviving military spouse must file a claim with the VA before receiving survivor benefits. Currently, these widows are ineligible to receive benefits until they file a claim and it is approved, a process that can often take several months.

Tester’s bill authorizes the VA to automatically provide pension benefits to widows of fallen service members and veterans for up to six months, alleviating pressure on families during a difficult emotional time.

Tester initially introduced this legislation in 2013, and it received the support of the Military Coalition, a consortium of nationally prominent military and veteran organizations, representing more than 5.5 million members plus their families and survivors.

This bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

Military Spouse Job Continuity Act

Tester’s legislation provides a tax credit for the spouses of military members who need to be relicensed or recertified in their professions when forced to relocate because of military orders..

Thousands of military members receive relocation orders every year forcing their families to uproot. In the process, military spouses often have to put their careers on hold because it can be difficult to transfer professional licenses or certifications.

Tester’s legislation would provide up to a $500 tax credit to cover administrative fees paid to licensing boards or certificate-granting institutions. These expenses are not currently covered by existing programs.

This bill is supported by the National Military Family Association, the Military Officers Association of America, the National Guard Association, and the Military Spouse JD Network.

This bipartisan bill is sponsored by Senator Bob Casey (D-Penn.).

Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act

This legislation ensures that first-year federal employees who are veterans with service-related disabilities can get the medical care they need without being forced to take unpaid leave.

Currently, first-year government workers accrue four hours of sick leave each pay period, forcing many veterans with disabilities to take unpaid leave because they have not built up the necessary leave time.

Tester’s bill would provide these veterans 104 hours of sick leave to use for medical visits.

This legislation has received support from a number of federal employee and veterans’ organizations, including the Federal Managers Association, the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Treasury Employees Union, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Disabled American Veterans. The House version of this bill is sponsored by Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), and Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) and was reintroduced in the House last week.

This bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Senator Moran.

Veterans Access to Community Care Act

Tester’s bill increases access to non-VA care for more Montana veterans by clarifying the 40-mile eligibility rule.

The Veterans Choice Act that was signed into law last year gave veterans access to non-VA care if they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility or if their wait time for an appointment was more than 30 days. The VA is applying the 40-mile eligibility criteria in a manner that only takes into consideration whether a veteran lives 40 miles “as the crow flies” from any VA facility.

Tester’s bill clarifies the 40-mile eligibility threshold to calculate the 40 miles based on the driving mileage from the veteran’s address. And to reach more veterans who are unable to readily access the care or services they need, the bill clarifies that the 40-mile requirement should be measured from a VA facility that does not provide the specific care or services being sought by the veteran, as opposed to any VA facility whether or not it provides what it being sought by the veteran.

The National Rural Health Association offered its support of the bill in a recent letter to Tester. “NRHA applauds your leadership in removing barriers that prevent veterans from accessing health care services, and allows rural veterans to have quality, timely care in their rural communities,” said NHRA CEO, Alan Morgan. “This important legislation will go far in helping rural veterans access the health care they need and deserve.”

This bipartisan bill is sponsored by Senator Moran.

Physician Ambassadors Helping Veterans Act

This bill directs the VA to allow volunteer physicians to serve in VA medical facilities.

This bill allows VA to employ physicians for any practice area or specialty if the wait time is longer than goals set by the VA or if the facility has staffing shortages.

This bipartisan bill is sponsored by Senator Moran.

TBI Assessment Act

Tester’s bill directs the VA to enter into an agreement with the Institute of Medicine to conduct a comprehensive review of the VA’s assessment of cognitive impairment for veterans who file disability claims related to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

The VA’s compensation exams determine whether or not a veteran has TBI, and the extent of the veteran’s disability-which is then used by the VA to process a veteran’s claim for disability benefits. In Montana, there is a major concern with how the VA conducts these TBI exams – leaving veterans improperly diagnosed and going without appropriate medical benefits.