U.S. SENATE — Senator Steve Daines today secured important reforms that increase Montana veterans’ access to health care services and ensures that the services and care earned by Montana veterans through their loyal and dedicated service to the nation is rightfully given to them.
Daines successfully worked to include provisions for Montana veterans’ long-standing concerns in the FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which was marked up and approved by the Senate Committee on Appropriations this afternoon.
“Montana’s veterans should have easy access to the resources and medical care they need close to home,” Daines stated. “I’m proud to secure many provisions that ease the delivery care for our veterans regardless of their physical location, and provide extremely needed resources for veterans struggling with PTSD, suicide and substance abuse. The VA has long ignored the care rural veterans need and through my efforts we are addressing these issues and fighting for the care Montana veterans deserve.”
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.
Daines secured the following provisions for Montana:
- Funding for Malmstrom Air Force Base Missile Maintenance Facility – $14.6 million for operations for Malmstrom.
- Prioritization for new facilities in rural areas – 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.
- Prioritization for mental health care providers in rural areas – States like Montana are at a disadvantage for given our large veteran population and great distances between cities and towns where veteran centers are located. The veteran centers in Montana are located in the major towns of Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula; however, much of the veteran population resides in the rural areas outside of town. Veteran centers that provide resources for veterans over large areas, like those in Montana, face heavier use with lower levels off staff. In addition, these staff are responsible for outreach over large areas facing great geographic barriers.
- Prioritization for funding of substance abuse counselors – The department should prioritize substance abuse treatment for veterans through counseling for veterans struggling with substance abuse disorder given that 20% of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have a substance abuse disorder and substance abuse is proven to lead to increased suicidal tendencies.
- Prioritization for funding preventing rural veteran suicides – Veterans in Montana and other states with low populations in large areas face decreased mental health resources. The VA is failing to identify ways to help these veterans and suicide continues to impact the veteran community in rural areas. Through increased attention and resources in these areas the VA can help stop the horrific rates of suicide facing our veterans.
- Vehicle Transport Driver Funding – Montana has multiple openings for van drivers to take veterans to the VA, but these jobs have been open for months and have not been filled. These vans provide transportation for veterans living on Tribal lands and for veterans in rural areas, and the VA has failed to prioritize recruiting for the positions to be filled.