Six of Tester's Bipartisan VA Reform Bills Gain Momentum

Senate Committee Considers Ranking Member's Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

(U.S. Senate)-The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee this week debated six bipartisan bills authored by Ranking Member Jon Tester.

During a legislative hearing, VA leaders and veteran advocates gave feedback and lent their support to various bills that will improve care for veterans and hold the VA accountable.

Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act

Tester’s bipartisan Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act guarantees that veterans who served off the shores of Vietnam and were exposed to toxins such as Agent Orange can access treatment and benefits from the VA.

“A generation of veterans bravely served our nation in the Vietnam War, and far too many of them are struggling with the horrific impacts of toxic exposure,” said Tester. “Unlike their fellow troops who served within the territorial boundaries of Vietnam, they haven’t been deemed eligible for critical benefits. It’s well-past time that we right this wrong and our bill provides these veterans their due.”

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee recently passed Tester’s Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Improvement Act

The VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Benefit supports surviving family members of service members who died in the line of duty, Gold Star families, and survivors of disabled veterans who died from a service-connected condition. Tester’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Improvement Act will increase this benefit by about $300 per month and make it fairer by bringing benefits for surviving military families more in line with federal employee and Department of Defense survivor benefits.

“Families who are grieving the loss of parents or spouses should never face financial uncertainty,” said Tester. “These brave men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice and it’s our duty to give their loved ones more economic security.”

VA Financial Accountability Act

Tester introduced the bipartisan VA Financial Accountability Act in response to concerns about the VA’s inability to track its budget and spending on private health care. Tester’s bill requires the VA to make emergency funding requests at least 45 days before a veteran’s access to VA health care or benefits could be disrupted.

“The VA’s inability to provide Congress with an accurate budget is hurting veterans and taxpayers across this nation,” said Tester. “We can’t keep allocating money to the VA without more accountability over its budget and spending practices. This bill shines light on the VA’s budget and holds the VA accountable to veterans and taxpayers.”

This bill also requires the VA to provide a justification and spending plan when it requests more funding and triggers a third party review of the VA’s financial processes, including how the VA tracks its budget and spending.

Draft of Transition Assistance Reform Bill

The Transition Assistance Program teaches servicemembers about the VA’s available resources, including career guidance, counseling, education benefits, and health care. Tester’s bipartisan proposal will allow the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Veterans’ Affairs, and Labor to work together to provide veterans with a more seamless transition back to civilian life.

“Too many veterans return home and don’t know what help is available to them, so they fall through the cracks,” said Tester. “Our bill makes sure veterans are informed about their benefit options so they can get the care they have earned.”

Tester’s bill will make sure servicemembers have more access to transition coordinators before they separate from the military. After a servicemember completes an informational session, a counselor will be assigned to that servicemember to provide career guidance, individualized skill and career assessments, and a transition plan that outlines educational, professional and financial goals for the servicemember and their family.

Burial Rights for America’s Veterans’ Efforts (BRAVE) Act

Tester’s bipartisan BRAVE Act ensures that all non-service connected deaths are treated equally, regardless of where the veteran passes away. Veterans who pass away in a VA facility are currently afforded greater benefits to cover funeral and burial costs than veterans who pass away in a private home or facility.

“A veteran’s final resting place and burial is an eternal testament to ‎bravery, service and sacrifice,” said Tester. “This bill does right by all veterans by helping with funeral and burial costs.”

VA Hiring Enhancement Act

Tester’s bipartisan VA Hiring Enhancement Act makes the VA more competitive in recruiting medical students to conduct their residency at the VA. It also releases private physicians from non-compete agreements if they agree to work at VA.

“The VA needs to be more focused on filling clinical positions,” said Tester. “This bill will allow them to better compete with the private sector, and can help the VA plan better for future needs by making offers before the completion of residency. If the VA uses this authority, it will give veterans better access to specialists across the country.”

The Committee will hold a markup in the coming weeks to potentially amend and vote to send these bills to the full Senate.

More information about the hearing can be found online HERE.