Tester’s VA and Military Construction Funding Bill Clears Senate

Legislation Will Strengthen National Security, Reduce VA Wait Times, and help Eliminate the Disability Claims Backlog for Montana Veterans

(U.S. Senate)-The United States Senate today put aside politics and passed Senator Jon Tester’s bipartisan legislation that will reduce wait times at the VA, address the veterans disability claims and appeals backlogs, and strengthen national security.

“My bill received strong support from both Republicans and Democrats because it provides the resources our troops need to keep us safe and honors the commitment this nation has made to the folks who served,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. “These additional resources will help eliminate the barriers that are keeping veterans from accessing the timely care they have earned.”

Tester helped author the bipartisan 2017 Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations bill, which increases investments in the VA by $3.4 billion-including $250 million specifically to improve the delivery of care for veterans in rural states like Montana.

Tester’s VA funding bill also provides an additional:

  • $495 million to expand and improve VA facilities.
  • $1 billion to increase medical services for female veterans, homeless veterans, medical research, and veterans needing long-term care.
  • $46 million to hire 300 new VA claim processors and 240 additional employees for the Board of Veterans Appeals specifically to address the current VA disability claim backlog. These additional resources will reduce the amount of time veterans wait after submitting a disability appeal to the VA.
  • $7 billion for the Medical Community Care account, which will help ensure that rural veterans and veterans needing specialized care are able to access health care treatment outside the VA system and closer to where they live. The bill also includes Tester’s language that would allow the VA to begin streamlining the many VA community care programs into a single initiative that will be easier for veterans and local health care providers to navigate.

Additionally, the bill includes Tester’s legislation to close a loophole in the VA’s travel reimbursement policy for severely disabled veterans who seek in-patient care.

Tester’s bill also funds military construction projects across the nation, including the Missile Maintenance Dispatch facility at Malmstrom Air Force Base. This facility will allow Malmstrom to receive a new fleet of Blackhawk helicopters by 2019 to replace the Vietnam-era H-1 Hueys currently in use at the base.

“Constructing the Missile Maintenance Dispatch facility will strengthen Malmstrom’s mission and limit any short-sighted decisions that could weaken the dual mission of the Montana Air National Guard,” Tester said.

The bill also authorizes a study to look at new routes around Great Falls for Malmstrom’s nuclear convoys that have been blocking traffic through town and been subject to increasing security vulnerabilities.

The 2017 Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations bill was passed by the Senate 89 to 8 and is one of twelve must-pass budget bills to keep the government open and funded.

Veterans across Montana and the country are praising Tester’s efforts:

“MOAA is grateful this legislation would provide an increase of nearly $2 billion over the current year, with additional funding to address treatment of hepatitis C, long-term care for veterans, caregiver support, and reduction of the claims backlog,” said Lt Gen Dana Atkins, USAF (Ret), President of the Military Officers Association of America.

“We want to thank Senator Tester for his leadership, and for crafting a bill that will strengthen the mission at Malmstrom. Constructing the Missile Maintenance Dispatch facility will ensure Malmstrom is prepared to receive a new fleet of helicopters and better protect this nation’s ICMB fleet,” said David Weissman, Chairman of the Montana Defense Alliance.

“The Blinded Veterans Association thanks Senator Tester for his recognition of the value of rehabilitation services for catastrophically disabled veterans and his commitment to insuring that those who need such services the most have access to them. This legislation will make it possible for a greater number of the brave men and women who have served our country to have access to the rehabilitation and care they need to live full and independent lives again. It fills a vital need in a fiscally responsible manner by reducing the veterans’ need for assisted living and nursing home care,” said Al Avina, Executive Director of the Blinded Veterans Association.