Tester Sends Critical Defense Wins for Malmstrom, Montana National Guard & Veterans to President’s Desk

Senate passes Tester-backed investments for Malmstrom, Montana National Guard, benefits for veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure, mental health services for Guardsmen and Reservists, farmers in annual defense bill

The Senate passed key defense priorities today spearheaded by U.S. Senator Jon Tester as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021 to support Montana’s military installations, servicemembers, veterans, and military families.

“This bipartisan bill is a victory for the critical investments we need to make to our nation’s military and national defense,” said Tester. “Once signed into law, this package will strengthen our ICBM mission, bolster the modernization efforts of our Air National Guard’s C-130 fleet, and provide much needed support to Montana’s men and women in uniform. And I’m especially thrilled that it includes my legislation to provide mental health care to Guardsmen and Reservists as well as folks in rural America, and finally gives our Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange access to the benefits and health care they’ve earned.”

Tester secured a number of provisions in the annual defense bill including a 3 percent pay raise to all servicemembers, as well as hazard pay and 180 days of medical care for National Guard and Reserve servicemembers deployed to fight on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Malmstrom Air Force Base

Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base is one of only three military bases across the country that house intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). The current fleet of ICBMs were first developed in the 1960s. The 2021 NDAA includes a number of Tester-backed investments in the maintenance and modernization of our nation’s ICBM force, including those at Malmstrom:

  • $1.5 billion for research and development of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), our nation’s future nuclear deterrent program. This money is also authorized to begin the construction and transition from current Minuteman III missile systems to the GBSD system.
  • $194 million to fully support the replacement of the Air Force’s UH-1N Huey with the MH-139 Grey Wolf.
  • $47 million for procurement of Minuteman III modernization to ensure the viability of our nation’s current strategic deterrent.
  • $50 million to support the Defense Community Infrastructure Program which will provide grants, conclude cooperative agreements, and supplemental funds available under other federal programs to assist states and local governments in addressing deficiencies in community infrastructure projects or facilities that are located outside of military installations but that support military installations.
  • $278 million for ICBM modernization research, development, test and evaluation.

Montana Air National Guard C-130 Mission

The 120th Airlift Wing is a unit of the Montana Air National Guard, stationed at Great Falls Air National Guard Base at Great Falls International Airport, where they fly the C-130H Hercules. The 120th Airlift Wing serves a dual mission participating in the defense of the United States and in response to state declared emergencies. For years, Tester has been a champion for the 120th Airlift Wing ensuring vital modernizations and upgrades to the C-130 fleet. In this legislation, he successfully secured:

  • $655 million for the Air Force to purchase seven additional C-130J aircraft.
  • $140 million for procurement for C-130H modifications and upgrades.
  • Language requiring the Air Force to maintain at least 287 tactical airlift aircraft, to prevent future elimination of C-130 units.

Tester also sent a number of his top legislative priorities to the President’s desk, including:

  • Fair Care for Vietnam Veterans Act—Landmark legislation requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide benefits to veterans suffering from conditions related to Agent Orange exposure—including Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism.
  • Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act—Legislation improving Guardsmen and Reservists’ access to consistent mental health services, regardless of their deployment status, and authorize the DoD to fund needed behavioral or mental healthcare. 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 to help them return to civilian life.
  • Individual Longitudinal Exposure Records (ILERs) Access—Legislation allowing servicemembers and veterans to access their individual longitudinal exposures record through an online portal.
  • Veteran Housing Opportunities and Unemployment Support Extension (HOUSE) Act—Legislation expanding eligibility for the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program to veterans with other than honorable discharges.
  • Seeding Rural Resilience Act—Legislation implementing programs that provide voluntary stress management training and establishing partnerships between the Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture to create a $3 million public service announcement campaign to increase public awareness of farm and ranch stress and destigmatize mental health care in rural communities.
  • Legal Services—Language providing legal services at VA facilities for veterans, spouses, and dependents—regardless of their discharge status—on a pro bono basis, and to establish new legal assistance clinics, or enhance existing legal assistance clinics or other pro bono efforts.
  • Study on Women Veterans Unemployment—Language directing the VA to conduct a study on unemployment rates between Post 9/11 Women Veterans and other groups of women veterans and their non-veteran counterparts.

In addition to successfully including a number of historic bills in the annual defense bill, Tester secured protections for servicemembers whose retirement eligibility was jeopardized as a result of annual trainings that were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also included a provision authorizing the Secretary of Defense to provide at least 14 days of housing for members of the Reserve Components ordered to active service in response to the national health crisis.