Tester Introduces Bill to Address Chronic VA Workforce Shortages

Senator Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Delivery of Care for Veterans

 U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced a bipartisan bill to address the crippling workforce shortages at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve health care delivery for the nation’s veterans.

There are currently 45,000 staff vacancies at the VA. Approximately 38,000 of those positions are responsible for delivering front line care.  The VA also faces a high turnover rate of medical staff for higher-paying private sector positions and challenges recruiting qualified staff in rural areas.

Tester’s Better Workforce for Veterans Act will improve the VA’s ability to recruit qualified medical professionals while incentivizing employees to keep working at the VA.

“We must empower the VA to hire the very best doctors, nurses and front line medical staff so this nation can live up to the promises we made to those who served,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Workforce shortages have plagued the VA all across this nation and fixing it requires putting politics aside to do right by Montana’s veterans.”

The Better Workforce for Veterans Act will do the following:

  • Create a VA-wide database for vacant and hard-to-fill positions.
  • Expand successful partnerships that bring recent graduates, veterans and private-sector employees to the VA.
  • Cut red tape to allow the VA to hire Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists.
  • Provide funding and flexibility to hire dynamic regional and local VA leaders.
  • Survey why employees choose to leave the VA.

“The healthcare field is a highly competitive employment environment, and the Better Workforce for Veterans Act will ensure that the VA is able to go after and hire the best talent available,” said Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Montana Chapter. “We are deeply thankful for Senator Tester’s continue efforts to expand and improve the workforce serving Montana’s veterans.”

More information about the Better Workforce for Veterans Act can be found online HERE.

Tester, Franken, Van Hollen, Hassan, Klobuchar Introduce Bill to Strengthen Education for America’s Troops and Veterans

Senator Jon Tester, Ranking Member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, and Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) today are introducing legislation to ensure that America’s veterans have access to educational opportunities.

The Senators’ Educational Development (ED) for Troops and Veterans Act will provide education benefits to service members who often have to leave behind schools, jobs, and homes to serve their country.

“Our service members have earned a quality education and it is our duty to make sure their lives aren’t totally upended while serving our country,” said Tester. “This legislation will help our nation’s brave men and women get the education they need to transition to civilian life and provide for their families.”

“The men and women who serve our country put their lives on the line to defend our freedom, and for their duty, we owe them a debt of gratitude,” said Franken. “We also owe them the best possible benefits and services once they come home. This important bill will help make sure that veterans in Minnesota and across the country can access critical education support and career training and it needs to be passed into law.”

“Service members from Maryland and across the country put their lives on the line – and their lives on hold – when they are deployed to protect our nation. It is up to us to do everything we can to support them when they return home,” said Van Hollen. “This legislation will help ensure that they are not unduly burdened while they are deployed and that they have access to a quality education as they transition back to civilian life.”

“We know that we must do more to ensure that our service members, veterans and their families receive the benefits and support that they have earned,” said Hassan. “The Educational Development for Troops and Veterans Act includes common-sense steps such as allowing service members to defer student loan payments during training for an upcoming deployment and protecting benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserve that will help ensure that those who sacrifice bravely for our country receive the educational opportunities they need to equip themselves for successful careers in civilian life.”

“When we ask our young men and women to fight in defense of our nation, we make a promise that we will take care of them when they are on duty and when they return home,” said Klobuchar. “Our legislation will help ensure that veterans and National Guard and Reserve members have access to the education, training, and career development they need to succeed in today’s workforce. They have had our backs, and we must have theirs.”

The ED for Troops and Veterans Act will do five things:

Provide protections and benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserve who deploy. 

For those stepping away from their career to serve their country, this bill will protect them from reduced wages or even termination from their job.  And it makes sure that National Guard and Reserve members receive the same GI Bill education benefits as their active duty counterparts for time deployed overseas. 

Allow service members to defer student loan payments during training for an upcoming deployment.
Service members train for months before a deployment, and often have to relocate to do so. These folks shouldn’t face financial hardship due to their student loan payments while serving our country and they should be completely freed up to focus on readiness requirements prior to deployment.  

Establish a grant program to build, maintain and improve college veteran education centers.
A number of benefits and resources exist for student veterans, but for many it’s a complicated system that’s hard to navigate. Veteran education centers help student veterans maximize their benefits, receive academic aid, and connect with their peers on campus. 

Keep tuition assistance for members of the National Guard and Reserve competitive.
The cost of college tuition is increasing by the year, and GI Bill tuition assistance for Guardsmen and reservists shouldn’t continue to lose its value. 

Protect Reservists’ monthly housing allowance during training.
Reservists have to commit to a number of training days a month to maintain readiness. This provision will correct a discrepancy that denies reservists who train on active duty status from receiving the full housing allowance to which they should be entitled. Many of these reservists are students who greatly rely on this allowance while furthering their education. 

The bill is supported by Student Veterans of America, Veterans Education Success, Reserve Officers Association, Retired Enlisted Association, Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Foundation, and the National Guard Association of the United States.

“The National Guard Association of the United States applauds the introduction of the Educational Development for Troops and Veterans Act, which would provide numerous protections and opportunities for our members. We appreciate Senator Tester’s efforts to correct the benefit disparity for members of the National Guard mobilized for pre-planned missions across the globe. We urge the Senate to pass this important bill to ensure the men and women of the National Guard accrue Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in the same manner as their active-duty brothers and sisters. This is not just a benefit-parity issue. It’s a question of fairness,” said Major General (Ret.) Gus Hargett, President of the National Guard Association of the United States.

“Veterans Education Success, a 501c non-profit pledged to support our nation’s student veterans and to protect the new GI Bill, strongly supports Senator Tester’s legislation to establish GI Bill rights for National Guard and Reserve service men and women called up for missions that are planned and budgeted by the Pentagon under Section 12304b, 10 USC.  Since the new authority was enacted a few years ago, tens of thousands of Guard and Reserve members have performed active duty military missions under these orders, but they are prohibited from earning new GI Bill benefits while so serving.  Operational reservists deserve the same benefits as their active duty counterparts for the same service.  VES applauds Senator Tester’s leadership in sponsoring the enabling legislation and looks forward to its early enactment this year,” said Bob Norton, Senior Advisor of Veterans Education Success.

“We are pleased to see this legislation addresses important topics for SVA and those we serve. Chief among them, we are interested in your idea to correct the oversight of National Guard and Reserve members who have been denied eligibility for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. This is a legislative priority for SVA. Many of these veterans served alongside regular active duty members doing the same work. Even so, these National Guard and Reserve members receive none of the benefits due to the technical lapse which does not count their service as qualifying active duty time towards the GI Bill under VA’s authority. Other sections address protections for National Guard and Reserve members including federal student loan payment deferral while deployed, improvement of on-campus student veteran centers, GI Bill benefit parity, and pro-rated housing costs for student veterans. We look forward to discussing these ideas with the rest of Congress, and thank you for your dedication to our nation’s student veterans,” said William Hubbard, Vice President of Government Affairs of Student Veterans of America.

Tester Introduces Bill to Extend Health Coverage for Children of Disabled Veterans

Senator Jon Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has introduced legislation to allow children of disabled veterans to remain eligible for VA-funded health care until they are 26 years old. 

Tester’s CHAMPVA Children’s Protection Act, S. 423, will specifically raise the maximum age for CHAMP eligibility to 26.

CHAMPVA, or the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, provides health insurance to dependents of permanently and totally disabled veterans as well as survivors of veterans who died as a result of a service-connected disability. Currently, children who are CHAMPVA beneficiaries lose their eligibility for coverage at age 23, if not sooner.

Tester’s bill brings the CHAMPVA coverage in line with private sector coverage.

“Families who have given everything for our country should not have to worry about their health care as they transition into the workforce,” said Tester. “This bill allows the young folks relying on CHAMPVA to finish school or start their careers without worrying about what happens if they get sick.”

“MOAA is extremely grateful to Senator Tester for once again championing the CHAMPVA Children’s Care Protection Act of 2017,” said Lt. Gen. Dan Atkins, President and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America. “This important legislation will provide a great deal of comfort and peace of mind to veterans families by giving their adult children eligible for CHAMPVA the same option to maintain their coverage until their 26th birthday as is currently provided by all other public sector and private insurance plans across the country—this is the right thing to do and MOAA looks forward to speedy passage of the legislation.”

“We thank Senator Tester for introducing this legislation and for working to equalize the benefits, rights and privileges of the adult children of both severely disabled veterans and those who gave their lives in service,” said Garry Augustine, Executive Director of DAV. “This provision would help to ease the burden of family members who—due to their parent’s service-connected impairments, disabilities or death—have no doubt already sacrificed a great deal in their young lives. We urge swift passage and implementation to ensure this inequity is corrected, so we can continue to keep the nation’s promises to its veterans, their families and survivors.”

“Dependent children of severely disabled veterans must be given the same opportunity as TRICARE and private health insurance beneficiaries to retain their health care coverage until age 26,” said Raymond Kelley, the National Legislative Director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “The VFW thanks Senator Tester for his leadership on this issue. It’s time Congress finally correct this inequity.”

Tester’s bill is also endorsed by the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.