Tester Leads Congress to Pass VA Funding Bill for Montana Veterans

For the First Time in Nearly a Decade, VA Funding Bill is Passed On-Time

(U.S. Senate) – Senator Jon Tester today led a bipartisan group of lawmakers to avoid a government shutdown and passed legislation to provide badly-needed funding to the VA.

“It’s plain and simple-Montanans don’t want to see their government shut down,” Tester said. “This is a good bill for our veterans, it is a good bill for our military, and it is good to see my colleagues come together in a bipartisan way to move this bill forward.”

Tester was able to include his Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations bill in the continuing resolution, which will provide full-year funding for veterans initiatives and military construction projects through September 30, 2017. Assuming the bill is signed into law before Friday night, it will be the first time Congress has funded the VA on-time since 2008.

Within his MilCon-VA Appropriations bill, Tester was able to secure a funding increase of $3.3 billion over last year for veterans’ health care. The additional funds will increase access to care for more veterans, enhance the quality of care – particularly mental health care – and allow the VA to hire more medical professionals and invest in its medical facilities.

Additionally, the Milcon-VA Appropriations Bill includes $14.6 million for a new missile maintenance facility at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The bill also continues the prohibition on relocating Malmstrom’s Air Force engineering unit known as RED HORSE.

As well as keeping the government open, this legislation includes:

  • An additional $248 million to expand and improve VA facilities.
  • $45 million increase for medical research initiatives – including prosthetic research.
  • $2.86 billion for VA claims processing, and 300 new claims personnel focused on appeals and the non-rating workload at the Regional Offices.
  • $156 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals, $46 million over last year, for the Board to increase its workforce by 240 employees who will specifically address the appellate backlog and reduce the time veterans wait after appealing a VA disability compensation ruling.
  • $7.2 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 of the VA system and closer to where they live.
  • $5.7 billion to treat the nearly one million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are seeking care through the VA.
  • $1.2 billion to increase access to telehealth services for veterans in rural areas.
  • $284 million for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury.
  • $8.6 billion for long-term care and support for Vietnam-era veterans and older veterans from other wars.
  • $7.9 billion to modernize facilities throughout the Defense Department.

The Milcon VA Appropriations bill also includes a mandate that requires the VA to provide fertility services, including in vitro fertilization, to veterans and their spouses if their infertility was a direct result of a service connected disability.

It also includes Tester-authored legislation to provide mileage reimbursement to catastrophically disable veterans seeking disabilities rehabilitation at VA facilities.

It also lays the groundwork for many of Tester’s provisions included in the Veterans First Act to streamline the many VA community care programs into a single initiative.

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

“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.

“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.

“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.

The bill to fund the VA and avoid a government shutdown passed, 72-26.