Senator Jon Tester's new subcommittee chairmanship is already paying dividends for Montana veterans.
Tester this week introduced legislation that will improve the quality of care for veterans around the Big Sky State. The bill, which includes provisions to strengthen the Department of Veterans Affairs' mental health and telemedicine initiatives, is based on feedback Tester received at his first subcommittee hearing in May.
Tester, who took over as the chairman of the Governmental Affairs subcommittee on the federal workforce and federal programs earlier this year, said the bill will benefit rural veterans and veterans suffering from mental health conditions like PTSD.
"I dedicated my first hearing to learning more about the challenges and opportunities facing our rural health initiatives and this bill is a direct result of that," said Tester, Montana's only member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "My subcommittee gives me the opportunity to bring folks together to share good ideas and make sure folks in Washington are listening."
Tester's comprehensive veterans' legislation will encourage the VA to recruit more Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists, strengthen existing law to allow the VA to provide mental health services to veterans' immediate family members, and identify issues hindering the expansion of telemedicine as a treatment tool.
Tester's bill is supported by numerous mental health and veterans advocacy groups, including the National Board for Certified Counselors and Wounded Warrior Project, which offered important feedback at Tester's hearing.
"This legislation is critical to ensuring the best care for our veterans, particularly mental health care," said Dr. Thomas Clawson, President of the National Board for Certified Counselors. "By expanding the VA training program, the bill will ensure an adequate mental health workforce for the growing veteran population. We applaud Senator Tester for his commitment to our nation's military heroes."
"Among its provisions, the Act recognizes that mental health wounds from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have too often taken a toll on both the warrior and on close family members," said Steve Nardizzi, CEO and Executive Director of Wounded Warrior Project. "We applaud Senator Tester for taking important steps in this bill to heal those wounds."
Tester this week also made progress toward passing his Ruth Moore Act in the Senate. The bill, which makes it easier for survivors of military sexual assault to get the veterans' disability benefits they need, earned more support from veterans and veteran service organizations at a Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing.
Tester's subcommittee's next hearing will examine the role of private contractors in the U.S. intelligence community in the wake of a private contractor having access to, and leaking, classified security information.