Tester Leads Hearings with Veterans Service Organizations on Priorities for Veterans and their Families

VSOs highlight strong support for Chairman Tester’s ongoing legislative efforts to ensure veterans receive their earned benefits

Continuing his efforts to take his cues directly from veterans, U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, led joint hearings of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees this week to hear from the nation’s leading Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) on their annual legislative priorities for veterans and their families.

At the hearing with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) on Wednesday, Tester underscored the key role VSOs played in putting pressure on Congress to get the PACT Act across the finish line. He also underscored his continued commitment to work with veterans’ groups on his ongoing legislative priorities for veterans, including his Major Richard Star Act and GUARD VA Benefits Act.

“Historic achievements like the PACT Act simply wouldn’t have been possible without your vision, your leadership, and your passion, so thank you,” Tester said. “…We are now focused on getting the Major Richard Star Act across the finish line to finally deliver combat injured veterans their full DoD and VA benefits…We also need to hold claim sharks accountable for preying on veterans’ hard-earned benefits through the GUARD VA Benefits Act. But just like with PACT Act, we need your continued partnership to be successful, and we’re here today to continue taking our cues from you on the work ahead.”

Tester also questioned VFW about his legislation to ensure that veterans whose military records are lost by the U.S. government through no fault of their own can still receive their earned benefits. Named for a Montana Vietnam veteran, the Senator’s Fred Hamilton Veterans’ Lost Records Act would authorize VA to grant disability compensation claims using alternative documentation in place of military treatment records when those records are lost by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

“Veterans are being denied earned VA benefits because the federal government lost their military records through no fault of their own,” said Tester. “We recently introduced legislation to address this named after a Montana veteran by the name of Fred Hamilton who is here today…could you please discuss how this Fred Hamilton Lost Records Act would improve the claims process for veterans?”

“Veterans are being denied their claims because the VA lost their records. This is a no brainer,” said Duane Sarmiento, Commander-in-Chief of the VFW. “…I appreciate you putting this in and I hope this Committee forwards this out because when you get down to the bottom line of this, a veteran puts a claim in, they get their medical records and service record and [VA officials] deny it because they lost it. That doesn’t even make sense to me.”

Today, Tester also heard from the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) on their ongoing legislative priorities for veterans and their loved ones. The Chairman highlighted their collective legislative accomplishments, including improving women veterans’ access to critical care and services with the Deborah Sampson Act, and their ongoing legislative efforts to strengthen veterans’ access to earned health care and benefits.

“DAV has been integral in helping us pass life-changing legislation, like the Deborah Sampson Act, the Hannon Act, and, most recently, the PACT Act,” said Tester. “DAV has been helping Congress pass legislation to support veterans and their families for decades. That’s why I’m proud to have DAV’s support for one of my top priorities this year – passing the Major Richard Star Act to help deliver combat-injured veterans their full DoD and VA benefits.”

When asked about a critical bipartisan amendment Tester championed to protect veterans’ access to legal firearms that was included in the government funding legislation, DAV underscored their continued support.

“DAV believes that veterans must have all their rights protected, including their due process rights, and we support that legislation,” said DAV National Commander Nancy Espinosa, when asked about the amendment.

Following the Senator’s call to Senate leadership, the amendment to protect veterans’ Second Amendment rights from federal overreach was successfully included in the must-pass government funding bill earlier this week. This amendment is supported by additional Veterans Service Organizations and Montana veterans’ mental health professionals, including the VFW, The American Legion, Mission Roll Call, and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Montana Director Matt Kuntz.

During this week’s hearings, the Committee also heard legislative presentations from Paralyzed Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, Mission Roll Call, Blue Star Families, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans Association, Service Women’s Action Network, Student Veterans of America, and AMVETS. The Committee also heard remarks from Senator Elizabeth Dole on how Congress can improve benefits and services for military and veteran caregivers.


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