U.S. SENATE — U.S. Senator Steve Daines today moved forward important reforms that increase Montana veterans’ access to healthcare services.
This afternoon, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed the FY 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which includes many of Daines’ reforms that address Montana’s veterans long-standing concerns.
“I am proud to secure important priorities for Montana on behalf of those that served our nation in uniform,” Daines stated.
Daines also successfully included an amendment during the committee process protects veterans’ ability to discuss with VA physicians the use of medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
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. Earlier today, the House of Representatives passed an amendment that mirrors Daines’.
Daines secured the following provisions for Montana:
- Funding for Malmstrom Air Force Base Missile Maintenance Facility – $14.6 million for operations for Malmstrom.
- Infrastructure: Daines secured an amendment directing the Department of Defense to study the construction of new routes for missile launch facilities taking into consideration local populations, security and safety, to ensure Malmstrom is able to upgrade its access to launch facilities successfully in the future.
- 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 healthcare 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.