Tester Introduces Veterans Affairs Legislation

Four bills aimed at improving access to health care for veterans and their families

By Molly Priddy

HELENA — Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester introduced four bills Wednesday aimed at improving access to health care for veterans and their families.

Tester said he drafted the bills to address concerns he heard during a statewide listening tour last summer. Tester conducted the tour after a report found broad and deep-seated problems in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.

“In exchange for their extraordinary service to our nation, we promised to care for them and their families,” Tester said of veterans. “By putting partisan politics aside, we’ll do right by our veterans and get these bills signed into law.”

One of Tester’s proposals aims to improve mental health care and suicide prevention while another would allow young people to stay on their parents’ VA health insurance program until age 26.

A third measure would reimburse expenses for veterans who travel for in-patient care and the last would promote more timely vaccinations for veterans.

Tester said the travel reimbursement bill came about after he heard from a blind veteran from Helena who was denied travel reimbursement to a blind care center in Tacoma, Washington.

“The only places where I can get the care I need are outside of Montana,” Roy Wheat said in a statement. “Senator Tester’s bill will help a lot of vets I know who want to access the care they earned, but can’t afford to travel thousands of miles to get it.”

Additionally, Tester will be reintroducing a bill strengthening the role of the VA’s Office of the Medical Inspector, which would make their reports public for the first time, according to spokeswoman Marnee Banks.

A VA reform bill passed last year that included Tester’s priorities of reauthorizing a program allowing the VA to provide tuition assistance for students pursuing VA employment and extending a pilot program that allows veterans to find care outside the VA system.

The VA provides medical care to about 6.5 million veterans annually.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.