On Senate Floor, Tester Urges Colleagues to Pass Targeted COVID-19 Relief Plan to Protect and Support Veterans

Chairman: “We need a distribution plan that’ll provide more predictability when it comes to administering vaccines, so we can get more vaccines into as many veterans’ arms, as quickly as possible”

U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, took to the Senate floor today to urge his colleagues to support the fiscal year 2021 Congressional Budget Resolution-which includes COVID-19 relief funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to protect veterans in Montana and across the country.

“For months, I’ve been hearing from folks back home in Montana on the need for Congress to put together a smart, targeted package that’ll quickly provide communities across the country with the resources they need to weather this storm, which includes delivering assistance and vaccines to those who’ve worn the uniform and made sacrifices on this country’s behalf,” said Chairman Tester. “If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to secure additional resources to expand medical services, mental health care, and telehealth capabilities to protect and support our most vulnerable populations. And we need a distribution plan that’ll provide more predictability when it comes to administering vaccines, so we can get more vaccines, into as many veterans’ arms, as quickly as possible.”

Chairman Tester has worked tirelessly to ensure that Montana’s veterans and their families have the resources they need to stay safe during the pandemic. He is continuing to hold VA accountable in establishing a targeted plan to distribute additional resources for the following veterans’ priorities:

  • Supporting COVID-19 vaccine distribution, expanding mental health care, enhancing telehealth capabilities, and extending support for veterans who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. This includes increasing personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies for clinical employees and the delivery of veterans’ health care.
  • Supporting increased demand for care in the community, specifically emergency room and urgent care.
  • Accelerating the deployment of VA’s supply chain modernization initiative to improve the Department’s preparedness and response to public health emergencies.
  • Increasing safety of veterans and staff at State Veterans Homes.
  • Increasing oversight of VA’s efforts to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus.
  • Addressing unemployment by creating a VA Rapid Retraining Assistance Program, which provides up to 12 months of re-training assistance for veterans who are unemployed due to COVID-19 and do not have veteran education benefits.
  • Delivering VA health care copayment relief by waiving debts and billing during the pandemic, as well as costs for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination services at the Department.
  • Extending VA health care coverage and eligibility to additional veterans who are experiencing financial hardship but are currently ineligible, and waiving hospital and medical care copayments for these veterans.

Yesterday, Tester met with President Joe Biden and Senate leaders to discuss a comprehensive COVID-19 relief plan, where he highlighted the urgent need to increase vaccine production to better protect veterans-especially those in rural areas across Montana. He also called for additional resources to address veteran priorities such as increasing access to mental health care and job training programs, bolstering the safety of veterans and staff at VA facilities and State Veterans Homes, and waiving VA health care copayment debts and billing during the economic crisis.

“COVID-19 has continued to negatively impact our members across the country, with seemingly no end in sight,” said Bill McCabe, Director of Legislative Affairs at The Enlisted Association. “TREA applauds Chairman Tester and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for prioritizing veterans’ access to more robust medical services, vaccine accessibility, co-payment debt relief, job training, and extended healthcare coverage. We urge the Senate to swiftly pass the COVID-19 Relief plan for veterans who are in critical need.”

“On behalf of the Military Officers Association of America, one of the nation’s leading veterans and military service organizations, I am pleased to support the provisions proposed by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for the FY 2021 Congressional Budget Resolution,” said President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Lieutenant General Dana Atkins. “The proposals in this resolution package address the dual challenges of the pandemic and economic crisis by providing the critical funding to help our veterans. Bold action is needed to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs has what it needs to meet our national emergency, and this package would do just that.”

“We appreciate Chairman Tester’s continued leadership throughout this pandemic,” said Joe Chenelly, AMVETS Executive Director. “Veterans have and continue to be severely impacted by the effects of COVID-19. As our country makes plans for a relief package, veterans should be at the forefront of legislators’ minds.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted access to care for our nation’s veterans as well as their ability to sustain a quality of life for their families,” said John Rowan, National President of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). “Our Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange are highly vulnerable to the virus. VVA fully supports the inclusion of additional resources to care for our veterans who have sacrificed in defense of this great nation.”

“VetsFirst strongly supports the Veterans provisions in the COVID-19 Relief Package and commends the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) for their leadership during the pandemic,” said Ken Greenberg, Policy Director at VetsFirst, United Spinal Association. “By including vital VA programs in the package-medical services, community care and State Veterans Homes-veterans will have greater access to care across the entire VA system. Rapid Retraining to put unemployed veterans back in the workforce is essential and waiving copays and offering health insurance to certain veterans provides immediate financial relief. VetsFirst will continue to work with Chairman Tester and SVAC leadership to support and provide critical services to veterans.”

Text of the budget resolution can be found HERE.