Daines, Zinke, Rosendale Introduce Bill to Protect MT Veterans

Submitted by Matt Lloyd

U.S. Senator Steve Daines, Congressmen Ryan Zinke (MT-01) and Matt Rosendale (MT-02) today introduced a bicameral bill to ensure Montana veterans’ access to mental health care in their local communities.

“The VA’s mission is to ‘care for those who have served in our nation’s military,’ that means ensuring our brave Montana veterans have access to the highest quality of care no matter where they live. I will always work to protect Montana veterans’ access to health care in communities across Montana,” Senator Daines said.

“The very program created to take care of our veterans should be the last obstacle standing in their way. Montana’s vets deserve the best, quickest, and most updated version of healthcare we can give them and expanding access to Community Care does exactly that. Whether it’s mental health, physical therapy or emergency medicine, the ability for one to see a doctor when they need it no doubt will save lives and give strength to veterans and their families,” Congressman Zinke said.

“Since coming to Congress and serving as the Chairman of the VA Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, I have prioritized ensuring veterans have the best healthcare possible – whether through the community care program or the VA. I’m proud to join Senator Daines and Congressman Zinke in introducing legislation to strengthen the VA MISSION Act to expand veterans’ access to community care,” Congressman Rosendale said.

The “Protecting Veteran Community Care Act” strengthens the existing community care program, limits the VA’s ability to restrict access to care in the community, and requires the VA to track relevant community care data and provide those statistics to Congress. Specifically, this legislation would: Amend the MISSION Act to specifically include inpatient mental health standards.

Adds clarity to veteran eligibility for care in the community. Requires the VA to track and present to Congress data on how veterans are requesting and using community care, along with what services community care funds are paying for. Requires passage of a Joint Resolution in both chambers of Congress to modify community care eligibility.

The 2018 VA MISSION Act was a landmark piece of legislation that overhauled the VA Choice Program to provide veterans with improved access to healthcare. Unfortunately, the VA has failed to live up to its obligation to provide timely care. Veterans are still facing unacceptably long waiting periods and frequently rescheduled appointments. The VA continues to fall short on the complete and proper implementation of the MISSION Act. This has resulted in the need for Congress to strengthen existing authorities to ensure that the VA isn’t restricting care in the community for veterans who need it most.

Tester Bill to Cut Red Tape, Improve

Outdoor Recreation Access

Submitted by Sarah Feldman

As Montana’s champion for improving access to public lands and bolstering the state’s $7.1 billion outdoor economy, U.S. Senator Jon Tester announced that his bipartisan Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act to improve the permitting process for outfitters, educational organizations, and community groups to access public land passed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, setting up the legislation for a full vote on the Senate floor.

“Countless small businesses and communities in Montana rely on access to our public lands to make a living, and cutting out needless bureaucracy will help to grow our $7.1 billion outdoor economy while ensuring that everyone in the Treasure State has the opportunity to experience the great outdoors,” said Tester. “I’ll always lead with the science when it comes to managing our public lands, and after talking with folks on the ground in Montana, it’s clear that we can simplify our federal permitting processes while being outstanding stewards of the land. Montana’s great outdoors are central to our state’s identity, and I look forward to passing this bipartisan bill so that everyone has the opportunity to experience the Last Best Place.”

The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act streamlines and improves the recreational permitting process for federal agencies:

  • Improves the process for issuing recreation permits by directing the agencies to eliminate duplicative processes, reduce costs, and shorten processing times.
  • Increases flexibility for outfitters, guides and other outdoor leaders by allowing them to engage in activities that are substantially similar to the activity specified in their permit.
  • Increases system transparency by directing agencies to notify the public when new recreation permits are available and requiring the agencies to provide timely responses to permit applicants.
  • Creates a pilot program for agencies to issue a single joint permit covering the lands of multiple agencies for trips involving more than one land management agency.
  • Reduces permit fees and cost recovery expenses for small businesses and organizations creating a de minimis exemption for cost recovery and requiring the proration of costs that apply to multiple permits.
  • Reduces barriers to access for state universities, city recreation departments, and school districts by waiving the permit indemnification requirement for entities that are prohibited from providing indemnification under state law.

The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act is supported by a wide range of organizations, including the Wilderness Society, the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, American Mountain Guides Association, Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, and the Outdoor Industry Association.

A longtime public lands advocate, Tester has long fought to secure funding to improve access, make infrastructure improvements, and preserve Montana’s outdoor heritage. He championed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), legislation that secures permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually and allocates $9.5 billion to address maintenance backlogs on public lands across the United States.

Senator Cuffe Recipient of First MT Volunteer Award

Submitted by 68th Legislative Awards Committee

Senator Cuffe has served 12 years in the House of Representatives and Senate. He was recently awarded the Senate Category – 2023 First Montana Volunteer Award Recipient. He currently chairs the Senate State Administration Committee and previously served on the House State Administration Committee, as well as several terms on the State Administration and Veterans Affair In term Committee. Senator Cuffe has been a champion of multiple military and veteran issues throughout his tenure and work with our organizations for several sessions. He also has been a strong advocate for efforts to exempt military annuities from state income tax. Mike carried the resolution honoring the 75th anniversary of WWI. He continues to be instrumental in supporting his constituents who seek veteran benefits.