Daines Fights for Montana Veterans’ Priorities in Senate Appropriations Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Steve Daines today helped secure important reforms that increase Montana veterans’ access to health care services and ensure that all Montana veterans are treated with the utmost care and respect in both life and death.

Daines successfully worked to include language addressing several of Montana veterans’ long-standing concerns in the FY 2016 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which was marked up and approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee this afternoon.

“Our nation’s heroes should have easy access to the resources, services and medical care they need and deserve,” Daines stated. “I’m glad that we were able to secure several important provisions in this bill to address Montana veterans’ long-standing concerns and ensure that all veterans are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Daines’ authored language ensuring that veterans with service animals can bring those animals into Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) facilities. Currently, veterans in some states, including Montana, have had difficulty bringing their animals into VA medical facilities. In the House, Daines introduced The Expanding Access for Veterans’ Service Animals Act, which called on the VA to create and implement a certification process for therapeutic animals that mitigate the effects of mental health conditions and requires the VA to allow service animals to stay with veterans while they receive inpatient care.

Daines also helped secure provisions that direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to take into account the situations of large rural states when determining where to build new veterans’ homes and ensure Montana’s veterans without next-of-kin aren’t denied a VA-issued headstone.

The current funding formula for veterans’ homes is based on state population and does not reflect the reality of states large rural states like Montana, where there is a strong need for more veterans’ homes. Montana only has veterans’ homes in Columbia Falls and Glendive, leaving a large distance between the two homes. Montana has long waited for a new home in Butte, which is greatly needed to address veterans’ housing needs in central and southern Montana, and this bill will direct the Secretary of the VA to take into account the unique situation of large rural states like Montana when making decisions on where to build veterans’ homes.

In the House, Daines worked to reverse a National Cemetery policy that resulted in numerous veterans – including several at the Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery in Laurel, Montana— being laid to rest without headstones. Daines helped introduce the Honor Those Who Serve Act, which would amend current policy to allow such groups, military researchers, local historians, and other civic organizations to request headstones on behalf of fallen veterans to ensure a proper military burial.

Daines also successfully included an amendment in the bill that protects veterans’ ability to discuss with VA physicians the use of medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Daines amendment passed the Committee on a bipartisan vote. The amendment would allow for parity between VA and non-VA facilities in states like Montana which have medical marijuana programs. It does not change current laws preventing the possession or dispensing of marijuana on VA property, but simply allows veterans to discuss all options that are legally available in their state with their VA doctor.