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Tester’s VA funding bill signed into law

Missoula Current

A bill to increase funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and upgrade military facilities was signed into law last week, marking the first time since 2008 that Congress has funded the VA before the beginning of the fiscal year.

The bill, written by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., increases VA funding by $3.3 billion. It funds veterans’ initiatives and military construction projects through the end of next September and represents the first of 12 “must pass” government funding bills to be signed into law this year.

“This bill provides additional resources that will increase veterans access to care at the VA and in their community,” said Tester. “Over the past year, I have worked hard with Republicans and Democrats to craft a bill that does right by our veterans and supports our troops, and this bill accomplishes both.”

Among other things, the MilCon VA Appropriations Bill provides $5.7 billion to treat nearly 1 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seeking care through the VA, and $1.2 billion to increase access to veterans in rural areas.

It also includes funding for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury, and provides long-term care and support for Vietnam-era vets and other veterans of other wars. Nearly $8 billion was also included to modernize facilities throughout the Department of Defense.

“This legislation will make it possible for a greater number of the brave men and women who have served our country to have access to the rehabilitation and care they need to live full and independent lives again,” said Al Avina, executive director of the Blinded Veterans Association.

The bill also provides mileage reimbursement to certain disable vets seeking disabilities rehabilitation at VA facilities. The measure includes $14.6 million for a new missile maintenance facility at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls.

“Constructing the Missile Maintenance Dispatch facility will ensure Malmstrom is prepared to receive a new fleet of helicopters and better protect this nation’s ICBM fleet,” said David Weissman, Chairman of the Montana Defense Alliance.

The MilCon VA Appropriations Bill will specifically provide:

  • An additional $248 million to expand and improve VA facilities.
  • $45 million increase for medical research initiatives – including prosthetic research.
  • $2.86 billion for VA claims processing, and 300 new claims personnel focused on appeals and the non-rating workload at the Regional Offices.
  • $156 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals, $46 million over last year, for the Board to increase its workforce by 240 employees who will specifically address the appellate backlog and reduce the time veterans wait after appealing a VA disability compensation ruling.
  • $7.2 billion for the Medical Community Care account, which will help ensure that rural veterans and veterans needing specialized care are able to access health care treatment outside of the VA system and closer to where they live.
  • $5.7 billion to treat the nearly one million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who are seeking care through the VA.
  • $1.2 billion to increase access to telehealth services for veterans in rural areas.
  • $284 million for veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury.
  • $8.6 billion for long-term care and support for Vietnam-era veterans and older veterans from other wars.
  • $7.9 billion to modernize facilities throughout the Defense Department.