Tester earns key endorsement for Military Family Relief Act

Senator’s bill ensures military spouses can more quickly access survivor benefits

(U.S. Senate) – During a hearing on the Veterans Benefits Administration’s budget request for 2016, Senator Jon Tester earned a key endorsement from the VA for his Military Family Relief Act.

Tester’s bipartisan bill would expedite the process through which the VA provides survivor benefits to recently widowed spouses of deceased veterans. Currently, the families of low-income veterans relying on a VA pension have that income end abruptly upon the death of the veteran. The surviving spouse must then file a claim with the VA before receiving survivor benefits – a process that can often take up to one year. Tester’s legislation would provide a seamless continuation of income for these grieving families.

“I cannot imagine what military survivors are going through – isn’t there some way to get the process streamlined?” Tester asked. “I think this bill is a slam dunk.”

Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, who oversees this process, called Tester’s bill “the right thing for people who are suffering and who deserve this.”

Today, Hickey also acknowledged that gathering service records from the Defense Department, which are used to evaluate benefits claims, has progressed for active duty military. Many of these steps were taken after Tester raised the issue with then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Hickey also testified, however, that more work needs to be done regarding the health records of Guardsmen and Reservists.

“We are using the Guard in a way that has never been used before,” Tester said. “If you need help getting records for those veterans, we’ll help. It’s important we meet their needs too.”

During the hearing, Fort Harrison was lauded for having the shortest benefits processing time in the nation, and Tester urged VA officials to increase the number of employees working at that facility.