Tester, Baucus announce quicker claims processing for Montana veterans

February 16, 2012

Fort Harrison selected as national test site to improve claims processing

(U.S. SENATE) – Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus are heralding news that VA Montana has been selected as a national test site to speed up claims processing for Montana’s veterans.

Fort Harrison was selected as one of three sites in the nation to serve as a test location for the Veterans Benefits Administration proposal to streamline the claims process.  Tester met last month with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to personally ask for additional initiatives for Fort Harrison.

The Veterans Administration has faced a backlog in processing claims from veterans seeking earned benefits relating to disability compensation and education benefits.  The VA nationwide currently has nearly 600,000 claims that have been pending for over 125 days.

Tester and Baucus have repeatedly pushed the VA to speed-up the claims process, saying veterans deserve timely service.

The backlog at the VA has grown substantially since veterans began returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Tester has used his position on the Veterans Affairs Committee to push the VA to address the backlog by providing better training to staff tasked with reviewing claims, streamlining paperwork, and transitioning to an electronic system to standardize the system.

Tester and Baucus recently wrote a letter to Shinseki asking him to consider moving the VBA Regional Director’s office from Salt Lake City to Fort Harrison.  The Senators have repeatedly pushed for the VA to include Montana in many of its new initiatives because of Fort Harrison’s track record of performance and experience.

Today’s news from the VA will mean seven new jobs at Fort Harrison.

Tester brought Shinseki to tour Fort Harrison in July.  During that visit, Shinseki was impressed with the performance of the staff at the VA.

“Montana’s veterans deserve timely answers to their claims, and long delays that threaten health care are unacceptable ” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “This is good news for all of the veterans currently caught up in the paperwork at the VA.  I look forward to Fort Harrison improving the claims process and serving as a model for the rest of the country.”

“It is a disgrace that our veterans have to wait so long to find out whether they are eligible for benefits,” said Baucus.  “In many cases, veterans sustain these injuries serving our country overseas and they should not have to wait so long to find out whether they are eligible for benefits they not only deserve, but have earned.  I’m proud of the hard-working folks at Fort Harrison for helping reduce the backlog of our veterans’ disability claims.  Now, Fort Harrison will remain on the cutting edge by helping the VA make the changes necessary to rise to the level of service our veterans deserve.”

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Montana Contractors’ Association Endorses Denny Rehberg for Senate

Contractors Praise Rehberg’s Support For Policies That Grow Economy, Create Jobs

HELENA, Mont. — Citing his strong support for job-creating policies, the Montana Contractors’ Association (MCA) today endorsed Congressman Denny Rehberg in Montana’s U.S. Senate race.

“Denny has been a tireless advocate for economic growth and development that creates jobs and fosters a strong construction industry. We are pleased to offer our support,” said MCA President Russ Olsen, an owner of R & R Taylor Construction in Bozeman.

Rehberg thanked the MCA for their support in what will be among the most watched U.S. Senate races of 2012.

“My top priority is jobs, and the members of the Montana Contractors’ Association create good jobs here in Montana. I’m humbled to have earned their support and I look forward to continuing working with them to get our economy moving again,” said Rehberg.

The Montana Contractors Association is a chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, and represents commercial, industrial and public works construction firms throughout the state. More information can be found on their website, www.mtagc.org.

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Chris Bond
Communications Director
Montanans for Rehberg

Tester bill requires Homeland Security Dept. to buy American

Bipartisan measure will create jobs, spur U.S. manufacturing

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester’s newest bill would require the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to purchase its supplies from American manufacturers.

Tester’s bipartisan bill, called the Berry Amendment Extension Act, requires the department to buy clothing, equipment, and other provisions from U.S. producers.  The Defense Department has operated under a similar requirement since Congress passed the original “Berry Amendment” in 1941.

“American tax dollars shouldn’t go overseas when American businesses and workers make quality products here at home,” Tester said.  “It’s common sense that the men and women who protect our country should wear and use American-made goods to do their jobs.”

Tester’s bill covers Homeland Security’s purchases of uniforms, footwear, tents, field packs, and other textile-based equipment.  It provides exceptions for small and emergency purchases, products unavailable from American manufacturers, and certain commercially-available textile products.

Dana Gleason, Chief Designer of Mystery Ranch, a Bozeman-based company that specializes in multi-use backpacks, says the change will benefit American manufacturers and create Montana jobs.

“Mystery Ranch would like to thank Senator Jon Tester for his leadership role in promoting American-made products,” Gleason said.  “This legislation will add jobs at Mystery Ranch’s newly expanded Bozeman plant by providing the Department of Homeland Security with top-notch American-made equipment.”

Tester’s bill mirrors a provision in the Recovery Act that required Homeland Security to purchase textiles and apparel products manufactured in the United States.

Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, introduced the Berry Amendment Extension Act with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).  It is available online HERE.

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Tester backs bills to better understand, reduce premature births

Senator’s bipartisan bills invest in research, support March of Dimes  

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is backing two initiatives to better understand and reduce premature births.

Each year, half a million U.S. babies are born prematurely, increasing their risk of medical and developmental problems.

Tester this month sponsored the PREEMIE Act, which will invest in research to help determine the causes of premature birth, improve prenatal and postnatal care, and develop educational campaigns.

“Improving our understanding of premature births will help reduce their frequency and improve the way we care for preemies and their mothers,” Tester said. “This bill is about giving women, their families, and their doctors the tools they need to have healthy, full-term pregnancies.”

The PREEMIE Act also establishes a new telemedicine project targeting rural regions that face high levels of risky pregnancies.  Tester says it could especially benefit Montana’s Indian Country, where premature birth rates are higher than rates in other parts of the state and nationwide.

Tester is also supporting the March of Dimes Commemorative Coin Act.  The measure authorizes the U.S. Mint to create half a million $1 coins to celebrate the upcoming 75th Anniversary of the March of Dimes.

Coin sales will support the non-profit organization’s efforts to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and premature birth.  The March of Dimes could raise as much as $10 million through coin sales and matching donations.

Tester recently backed a new effort to prevent violence against women and reiterated a woman’s right to accessible health care.

Tester’s bipartisan PREEMIE Act stands for the Prematurity Research Expansion and Education for Mothers who Deliver Infants Early Act.  It is available online HERE.

Tester’s bipartisan March of Dimes bill is available online HERE.

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AFSCME Backs Bullock: “Steve Will Create Jobs and Stand Up for Workers”

1,800 State, County and Municipal Employees Endorse Bullock for Governor

HELENA – The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 9 – and their 59 locals and 1,800 members in Montana along with AFSCME International which represents 1.6 million workers – announced their endorsement and strong support of Steve Bullock’s campaign to be Montana’s next governor.

“Working Montanans need to have a Governor that will stand up and fight for them, create jobs and keep Montana moving in the right direction – Steve Bullock’s that guy,” AFSCME Executive Director Timm Twardoski said.  “Steve not only understands the issues important to the middle class, he’s been a champion for them.”

Bullock will fight cuts to education, job training, Medicaid and Medicare, Twardoski added.

Bullock worked with AFSCME in 2006 when he led the effort to raise Montana’s minimum wage – a campaign that led to 20,000 of Montana’s lowest paid workers to get a $1/hour raise.

Fran Schweigert, an equipment operator from Laurel, said Bullock has stood with workers and will continue to fight for the middle class as Governor.

“Steve shares my values and a has a vision for the future of our state.  As governor, he’ll make sure that the next generation can get a world-class education, a good paying job and be able to raise their kids here, too,” Schweigert said.

AFSCME Locals include Roosevelt County Employees, Wolf Point Hwy. Maintenance, Missoula Highway Maintenance, Billings Highway Maintenance, Miles City Highway Maintenance, Kalispell City, Miles City City Employees, Miles City Law Enforcement Officers, Laurel Police Department, Laurel City Employees, Havre Public Works, Community Hospital LPN’s, Agricultural Experiment Station, Kalispell Highway Maintenance, Granite County Sheriff’s Department, Glendive Highway Maintenance, Glendive City Employees, Glendive Police, MDC Boulder,  Lewistown Highway Maintenance, MCDC Butte, Bozeman Highway Maintenance, Libby School District #4, Havre Highway Maintenance, Dawson County Corrections, Public Defenders Investigators and Staff, Montana State University – Northern, Livingston City, Lake County Detention, Helena School District #1, Anaconda Janitresses, Kalispell School District #5, Whitefish City, Lake County Sheriff Deputies, Lake County 911, Libby City, Flathead 911, Gallatin County Dispatch, Missoula 911, Lake County Solid Waste, Mineral Community Hospital, Flathead County Sheriff Detention, Montana Office of Public Defenders Attorneys, Carbon County, Flathead County Sheriff Deputies Sworn, Missoula County Juvenile Detention, Missoula County Detention Support Staff, Lake County Road and Bridge, Stillwater County, Anaconda LPN’s, Red Lodge Police, Red Lodge Public Works, Troy Area Dispatch and Lake County Courthouse Employees.

Kim Gillan to Officially File to Run for Congress

Gillan is the only candidate in the race for Congress with a proven track record of delivering real results that for Montana’s working families

Helena, MT – On Thursday, February 16th at 12:00 p.m., Billings State Senator Kim Gillan will officially file her paperwork to run for Montana’s lone congressional seat.

Gillian will hold a press conference at the Secretary of State’s office in the State Capitol immediately after filing.

About Kim Gillan: Kim Gillian is an experienced and results driven State Senator from Billings who oversees the Workforce Development program at MSU-Billings, an effort committed to bringing new, good paying jobs to Montana and making sure that the state’s workers and young people have the skills needed to compete and excel in today’s changing economy.  Gillan served 16 years in the Montana Legislature, where she fought for balanced and responsible budgets, supported Montana’s small businesses, protected a woman’s right to choose, created a fairer tax system for working families, and implemented an insurance mandate in Montana that covers diabetes and autism.

WHO:        State Senator Kim Gillan and Supporters

 WHAT:      State Senator Kim Gillan will officially file to run for Congress

WHEN:      Thursday, February 16 at 12:00 p.m.

WHERE:   Secretary of State’s Office’s Conference Room, State Capitol

Tester: Homeless women veterans deserve access to services

Senator pushes federal agencies to address disparities, says women ‘overlooked’

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is calling for equal access to care and treatment for homeless women veterans, whose numbers have doubled in recent years.

Tester applauded recent efforts by the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development to reduce overall veterans’ homelessness, but said that the challenges facing homeless women veterans are being “overlooked.”  Tester highlighted a recent government report that calls on the agencies to improve collaboration and offer better housing options for women.

“As we see more and more women veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is increasingly critical that we do more to help them transition home,” Tester wrote department leaders.  “Until every single veteran is off the street, we must not relent in our efforts to provide the services and assistance they need.”

The report calls on the two agencies to work together to gather data and improve care for homeless women veterans.  It cited insufficient housing options that force women – often with children – to leave shelters because of unsafe and uncomfortable conditions.

Tester specifically requested that the VA and Housing and Urban Development take steps to better track the number of homeless women veterans, reduce their overall number, and identify gender-specific safety and security standards.

VA figures show the number of homeless women veterans more than doubled in recent years, even as the overall rate of veterans’ homelessness declined 12 percent in 2011.  Tester’s letter also highlights that the unemployment rate for women veterans now doubles the national average.   

Tester’s bipartisan letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan was signed by Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).  It is available below and online HERE.

 

Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, will have the opportunity to question Shinseki in person about veterans’ homelessness at a hearing on March 14.

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February 15, 2012

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki                                 The Honorable Shaun L.S. Donovan

Secretary                                                                     Secretary

Department of Veterans Affairs                                 Department of Housing & Urban Development

810 Vermont Avenue, NW                                         451 7th Street, SW

Washington, DC 20420                                              Washington, DC 20410

Dear Secretary Shinseki and Secretary Donovan,

We appreciate your ongoing efforts to reduce homelessness among our nation’s veterans, and applaud your request for an increase of $333 million for programs to end veteran homelessness in the fiscal year 2013 budget.  Recent reports of a 12 percent reduction in the homeless veteran population over the last year are certainly a testament to your hard work and leadership. Despite these gains, we have concerns that the particular needs of homeless women veterans are frequently being overlooked.  As we see more and more women veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is increasingly critical that we do more to help them transition home.

As you know, a recent Government Accountability Office report, “Homeless Women Veterans: Actions Needed to Ensure Safe and Appropriate Housing,” highlighted an opportunity to increase collaboration between your two agencies when it comes to gathering data about homeless women veterans.  As you would undoubtedly agree, without that data, it is impossible for us to have a clear understanding of the demographics of this population or to develop a strategy that can effectively address their particular needs.

The report also highlighted limitations in available housing options for women veterans with children.  Although VA has a referral policy in place for temporary housing, it is not being implemented uniformly nationwide.  As a result, homeless women veterans in some parts of the country are forced to return to the streets until they are admitted into the Grant and Per Diem or HUD-VASH programs.  Additionally, infrastructure needs such as private and secure rooms and showering facilities are often lacking – placing women veterans in uncomfortable and potentially unsafe situations.  We can and should do better.

In light of this report, we request responses to the following questions:

-          What steps are your agencies taking to better capture information on our homeless women veteran population?

-          How do you track both the demographics and particular needs of this population?

-          What strategies are being employed to effectively address their unique needs?

-          What improvements will be made to VA’s implementation of its referral policy?

-          What type of gender-specific safety and security standards will be implemented for VA’s Grant and Per Diem program?

-          What additional steps need to be taken to reduce the rate of homelessness among female veterans?

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that, although the overall number of unemployed veterans has decreased significantly over the past year, the unemployment rate amongst women veterans is now more than double the national average.  As unemployment rates often directly correlate with rates of homelessness, how closely are your Agencies working with the Department of Labor to reduce the homeless women veteran population by addressing one of the underlying symptoms of their unemployment or underemployment?

It is critical that we continue doing absolutely everything we can on behalf of the brave men and women who have already made tremendous sacrifices for our nation.  Until every single veteran is off the street, we must not relent in our efforts to provide the services and assistance they need to find adequate and long-term housing for them and their families.  In doing so, we must make every effort to ensure we are addressing the needs of our entire veteran population, particularly our women veterans, to ensure their needs are being met and they are not falling through the cracks.

We appreciate your attention to this matter, and request a response to inform our views in advance of the March 14 hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on veteran homelessness.  We look forward to working closely with both of you to address this critical issue.

Sincerely, Jon Tester et al