U.S. SENATE —U.S. Senator Steve Daines today secured numerous provisions in the FY 2018 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to increase Montana veterans’ access to timely care for injuries they sustained while serving our nation. These provisions will reduce delays for new facility construction, expanding mental health treatment options and expanding access to veterans in rural areas.
“Montana’s veterans have suffered under the status quo for too long,” Daines stated. “We are beginning to make real progress for Montana’s veterans and I look forward to continuing to make progress for them.”
Daines offered an amendment to the bill, which was marked up and approved by the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations today. The amendment ensures that veterans have equal access to all of the medical options available in their local community, to include medical marijuana in states where it is legal.
Daines also secured funding for two major construction projects that will commence later this year at Malmstrom Air Force Base. A new Tactical Response Facility will replace the nearly 60 year old hangar that currently houses the Vietnam-era UH-1N ‘Huey’ helicopters. A new missile maintenance facility will mitigate weather delays often associated with northern tier bases.
Daines secured the following provisions for Montana:
- Funding for Medical Facility Leases to include the Missoula Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) expansion. This follows legislation Daines introduced in January to provide the VA with the authorization to pursue this lease.
- Increased Funding for the Construction of State Extended Care Facilities to include the 60-bed veterans home in Butte. The state of Montana provided its $5 million cost share for this effort in 2011, yet the project has languished on the VA’s Priority Group 1 list for over five years.
- Expanded Treatment Options for Veteran Suicide and Mental Health. At Daines’ request, the bill encourages the VA to expand research into Magnetic EEG-Guided Resonance Therapy—a non-invasive therapeutic approach for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress and other neurocognitive disorders. The bill requires the VA to include a mobile capability to reach veterans in rural areas. Daines recently spoke at an event showcasing this therapuetic approach in Bozeman.
- Legal Assistance for Veterans at Risk of Homelessness. At Daines’ request, the bill encourages the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program to work with institutions like the University of Montana’s Veterans Advocacy Clinic to provide pro bono legal assistance to at-risk veterans in their community.
- Funding for the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. In January, Secretary Shulkin asked Daines for legislation giving him the authority to hold leaders accountable who received bonuses while engaging in scandalous behavior. Daines cosponsored three bills providing that authority, including the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act recently signed into law by President Trump on June 23rd. This funding follows through on his commitment to bring needed change and reform to the VA.
- Funding for an Interoperable Electronic Healthcare Record. Daines has repeatedly pressed DoD and VA leadership to pursue an Electronic Healthcare Record system. On June 5, Secretary Shulkin announced the VA’s decision to abandon its aging VistA system in favor of DoD’s successful MHS Genesis program.
- Funding for Medical Community Care. In March, Daines co-sponsored the Veterans Choice Improvement Act which ensured that funding for Choice providers would not expire on an arbitrary date in August. This funding ensures veterans continue to receive care from their providers until Congress authorizes a more viable replacement.
- Funding to Expand and Improve Women’s Health. Additional funding supports a variety of gender-specific needs ranging from prosthetics to treatment for victims of sexual trauma.
- Prioritization for Mental Healthcare Providers in Rural Areas. Veteran centers that provide resources for veterans over large areas, like those in Montana, face heavier use with lower levels of staff. Daines included language that directs the VA to prioritize rural access to mental health.
- Prioritization for Funding Preventing Rural Veteran Suicides. The VA estimates that 20 percent of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have a substance abuse disorder and substance abuse is proven to lead to increased suicidal tendencies. Daines secured language that directs the VA to prioritize substance abuse counseling for veterans with PTSD.
- Blue Water Navy Veterans. The bill extends coverage to Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange in the territorial waters of Vietnam Daines has been pushing for the passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act alongside a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation would clarify existing law so that Blue Water veterans would be covered by the VA if they served within “territorial seas,” or approximately 12 miles offshore of Vietnam. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act would make it easier for the VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected health conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by extending presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans.
- Measures to ensure Discharge Review Boards (DRBs) give liberal consideration to petitions for changes in discharge status to honorable if the servicemember has PTSD, TBI or related conditions in connection with their military service.
- Efforts to prevent the consolidation or relocation of any U.S. Air Force RED HORSE squadron.