Tester secures important provisions for Montana veterans, national security in year-end spending bill

Senator frustrated with process that bogged down veterans legislation

(U.S. Senate)-Senator Jon Tester secured multiple provisions for Montana veterans and national security priorities in a year-end spending bill that was passed by Congress today and is on its way to the President’s desk.

Tester used his seat as the Ranking Member of the Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee to ensure the bill makes a historic investment in the delivery of care to veterans, while helping the VA eliminate its disability claims backlog, expand access to care for more veterans, and construct new facilities, including Vet Centers and veterans homes in places like Montana. The bill will also allow for critical upgrades to the Montana Air National Guard’s C-130 fleet and to modernize the ICBMs at Malmstrom.

Tester supported the year-end spending bill until it was attached at the last minute to a tax package that will increase the national debt by more than $680 billion over the next decade, not including additional interest payments that will be required.

“There are many critical provisions in this bill that will help Montana veterans and strengthen the mission at Malmstrom and MANG,” Tester said. “I joined in on some of the early negotiations, but I haven’t been in the smoke filled room where leadership and the President chose to hatch out a deal behind closed doors. I pushed hard to keep this massive debt proposal off of the appropriations bill because we should not saddle our kids and grandkids with over $680 billion in new debt.”

After the vote, Tester remained disappointed that Congress moved forward with the debt package, but pointed to several of his veteran provisions that were included in the final version of the bill.

Tester’s provisions in the bill will:
• Construct a $19.7 million Air Force Tactical Response Force Alert Facility at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
• Invest an additional $60 million to address the growing need for state-run veterans’ homes across the country, including rural areas.
• Invests an additional $15 million in Vet Centers, which provide critical mental health services to veterans and their families.
• Increase protections for VA whistleblowers who report issues that are blocking veterans from seeking timely care.
• Ensure that the VA is more capable of addressing the specific needs of female veterans.
• Create a VA nurse call center that will provide medical advice and appointment and cancellations services for veterans.
• Invest an additional $25 million for STARBASE to help children of military families take a more active role in STEM fields.
• Require regular updates from the Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration on efforts to address communication and safety concerns regarding the expansion of the Powder River Training Complex.

Tester voted to separate the omnibus appropriations bill from the tax package, but that vote failed, 25-73.

Tester supported the omnibus appropriations bill, but voted no on the final bill once the tax package was included to avoid passing down an additional $680 billion of new debt to the next generation of Montanans.