Tester Ushers Landmark Bill to Support Women Veterans Through Committee Hurdle

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee unanimously passes key legislative priorities, including five Tester-authored bills to improve veterans’ access to critical mental health care, protect Veteran-Owned Small Businesses from bad actors, and more

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today unanimously passed five bipartisan bills led by Ranking Member Jon Tester to address a number of his top legislative priorities—including his landmark Deborah Sampson Act, legislation to support women veterans.

Women veterans are more likely to face homelessness, unemployment, and go without health care as a result of a lack of equitable care and services at facilities under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—even though they are the fastest growing group of veterans. During today’s markup, Tester’s bipartisan Deborah Sampson Act—comprehensive legislation to address the needs of women veterans across the country—passed without opposition. Senators Tester and John Boozman (R-Ark.) reintroduced the bill last year, and worked across the aisle to secure provisions to provide coverage and services to veterans who are survivors of military sexual trauma (MST).

“Women are the fastest growing population of veterans and VA needs to be fully prepared to meet their needs,” said Ranking Member Tester. “Today’s landmark passage of our Deborah Sampson Act sends a very important message—not only to women veterans, but to the American public—that my colleagues and I came together during politically turbulent times to do what’s right. In this case, it means getting one step closer to providing critical support to our sisters, mothers, and daughters who have sacrificed so much on our behalf.”

“More women are answering the call to serve in uniform,” said Boozman. “The modern makeup of our veteran population requires us to reexamine how we can best serve their needs. Removing the obstacles women face to accessing the care and benefits they earned is necessary to fulfilling our promise to these veterans. We are one step closer to making the VA more accommodating to the unique challenges facing these brave veterans.”

“DAV strongly supports S. 514—the Deborah Sampson Act and appreciates Senator Tester’s leadership in moving forward this comprehensive bipartisan legislation to improve health care services and benefits for our nation’s women veterans,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “Passage of this bill has been a key legislative priority for DAV and we appreciate the full support of the Committee to ensure women veterans have access to high quality health care services and the benefits they have earned as a result of their service.”

“I would like to express our proud appreciation for Senator Tester’s leadership in shepherding the landmark Deborah Sampson Act through to passage by the Senate VA Committee today,” said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Executive VP Tom Porter. “It has been through his commitment to moving the VA toward equal care for all veterans that enabled us to launch our #SheWhoBorneTheBattle campaign with the launch of this legislation three years ago. We are very encouraged that we will see this legislation signed into law this year.”

The Committee also unanimously passed the following Tester bills:

  • Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act of 2019 – Legislation to improve Guardsmen and Reservists’ access to consistent mental health services, regardless of their deployment status. The bill will also allow members of the Guard and Reserve to access Vet Centers for mental health screening and counseling, employment assessments, education training and other services. Tester’s bill is included in both the House and Senate’s must-pass annual defense bill for fiscal year 2021.
  • Protecting Business Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2020 – Legislation to protect Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses from bad actors looking to exploit the Vets First Program. The bill will also direct VA to monitor compliance and enforce the laws to ensure veteran-owned small businesses are given preference.
  • Stopping Harm and Implementing Enhanced Lead-time for Veterans Act (SHIELD) for Veterans Act of 2020 – Legislation to create new protections for veterans when they are involved in a debt-related action with VA. The bill will also direct VA to improve its debt management practices, systems, and processes. This legislation builds upon Tester’s bipartisan Veteran Debt Fairness Act of 2019, legislation to reduce overpayment errors and hold VA—not veterans—accountable for its mistakes.
  • Accountability in Department of Veterans Affairs Scheduling and Consult Management Act – Legislation requiring VA to look at the entire scheduling process—for both in-house and non-VA care—in order to increase veterans’ access to health care more quickly. The bill will also require VA to publish timeliness data so veterans can make a more informed decision about where to seek care.

    Tester’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is available HERE.