Tester: Better health care coming to rural veterans

Congress passes Senator’s landmark measure to improve care for all Montana veterans

(BIG SANDY, Mont.) –Veterans across Montana and rural America will see improved health care thanks to landmark legislation by Senator Jon Tester.

Tester—Montana’s only member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee—wrote the bipartisan Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act last year.  The final measure unanimously passed the Senate Thursday night and is expected to be signed into law as early as next week.

“We’ve still got more work to do, but this new law is a big step forward for all of Montana’s veterans,” Tester said.  “Sadly, veterans across rural America still have to go through too many hoops to get the quality health care they earned.  But listening to and working with veterans across Montana, we were able to get some common sense changes through Congress.”

Tester’s measures will improve care for all veterans in Montana and across rural America in several ways:

  • Permanently securing the 41.5 cents-per-mile travel reimbursement for disabled veterans that Tester secured two years ago,
  • Establishing a grant program to fund Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and similar volunteer service organizations that operate “Vet Vans,” which transport veterans from their homes to VA facilities,
  • Expanding the VA’s ability to recruit and retain high quality health care providers in rural areas,
  • Strengthening oversight of health care and offering incentives for reliable high-quality standards,
  • Expanding the VA’s telehealth program and its ability to collaborate with the Indian Health Service and community organizations to provide medical services in rural communities.

Tester’s bill is supported by several national veterans’ organizations, including: the Wounded Warrior Project, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the DAV.

“Montana’s veterans are benefiting from Senator Tester’s dedication to improving  our access to the quality health care we were promised when we enlisted,” said Burl Brawley, Commander for Montana DAV, which coordinates the Vet Vans program that drove over 900,000 miles last year.  “Thanks to Senator Tester’s hard work, the DAV will be able to expand our Vet Vans program so we can give even more free rides to veterans from around the state get to their medical appointments Fort Harrison.”

“Just as we promise our troops the resources they need when they answer the call of duty, we’ve made a promise to all the men and women who serve to care for them when they come home,” Tester said.  “I’m going to keep working to make sure that promise is kept.”

Congress on Thursday also cleared two separate veterans measures sponsored by Tester:

  • A requirement for the VA to revisit a flawed study on some veterans exposed to chemical weapons through the U.S. Navy’s Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD) project,
  • Renaming the Havre VA Clinic as the Merrill Lundman VA Clinic, in honor of a late Hi-Line veteran who devoted many of his later years to establishing a VA clinic in Havre.