Daines Stands Up for Montana Veterans, WWII Women Airforce Service Pilots & VA Accountability

U.S. SENATE — Senator Steve Daines today stood up for Montana veterans, WWII Women Air Service Pilots who trained in Great Falls and worked to increase accountability at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Daines secured numerous provisions to address Montana veterans’ long standing concerns in Senator Johnny Isakson’s (R-GA) Veterans First Act, which was introduced earlier today.

Daines’ provisions include:

Veterans Choice Act Improvement

 Major components of Daines’ bill, the Veterans Choice Improvement Act of 2016 were included in the Veterans First Act. Some of Daines’ reforms include an overall reform of the VA to help rural veterans by establishing prompt payment standards and streamlining the requirements for community medical providers to enter into agreements with the VA.

“One of the top concerns I hear from veterans as I travel the state are issues with the Choice Act. I’m proud to secure the reforms that our Montana veterans deserve and have long been asking for,” Daines stated.

Daines’ bill received its first legislative hearing on March 15, 2016.

WWII Women Airforce Service Pilots

Daines’ legislation S. 2437, Women Airforce Service Pilot Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act directs the Secretary of the Army to allow Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), who served on Active Duty in WWII to be eligible for inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery.

“This is a wrong that needed to be made right and I’m proud to be a part of working to restore the benefits to our WWII women pilots who trained right here in Montana,” Daines stated.

Malmstrom Air Force Base was a famous training ground for the WASPs in WWII, when it was formerly known as Great Falls Army Air Base. WASPs, who flew noncombat missions to free up male pilots, were granted veteran status in 1977 and made eligible for inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery in 2002.

In 2015, the former Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, who sets the inurnment policy at Arlington, revoked the right of WASPs to be inurned at the cemetery citing space constraints. There was no warning or discussion before this decision.

VA Accountability

Daines secured the follows reforms to hold the VA accountable:

  • Makes it easier for VA to hire and remove senior executives.
  • Gives the VA Secretary additional flexibility in hiring and firing senior executives.
  • Reduces benefits for senior executives who have committed certain crimes.
  • Incentivizes managers to address poor performance and misconduct among employees by requiring the VA secretary to include this as part of the annual performance plan.
  • Prohibits bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing.

“The VA employs thousands of great employees, a few bad actors should not continue to ruin public trust and deny veterans the top care they deserve,” Daines stated. “I’ve long called for accountability at the VA and will continue to ensure veterans are receiving care from top professionals.”  

On February 29, Daines heard directly from veterans in Bozeman about their frustrations with the VA.

Daines is a co-sponsor of both S. 627 VA Employee Bonus Accountability and S. 1082 Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act that bring much-needed accountability to the VA.

Expanding Research on Toxic Substance Exposure

Daines, a long time cosponsor of the Toxic Exposure Research Act, secured a provision requiring the VA to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Medicine to conduct an assessment on scientific research relating to the descendants of individuals with toxic exposure. Additionally, his provision assures the future research on health effects from toxic exposure on descendants of veterans.

“Veterans should not continue to suffer from toxic substances they were exposed to during their service to our country. We must prioritize their long-overdue benefits, and do what the VA hasn’t – live up to the promises our country made to them,” Daines stated.