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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Federal budget deadline puts veterans health funding at risk

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing to expand health care benefits to millions of veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances.

Funding to implement the PACT Act is now at stake as Congress barrels headlong toward a government funding deadline. Congress has one week to meet that funding deadline. A stopgap, or continuing resolution, deal would only provide temporary funding at existing levels.

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs says that would mean no money to fund the PACT Act as it gets started.

“And if you don’t have any money for the PACT Act, what that means is we made promises to veterans back in July that we were going to take care of toxic exposure. Now we’re saying to the VA, ‘Oh by the way, we’re not going to give you any money to take care of those toxic-exposed veterans.’ That equation does not work.”

The PACT Act is the largest expansion of veteran health care and benefits in decades.

The VA says almost 177,000 veterans nationwide have applied for expanded benefits since President Biden signed the act into law last summer.

The VA is now staffing to process that mountain of new claims and meet skyrocketing demand for toxic exposure and related healthcare services. The agency’s ability to pay for those services is linked to the passage of a federal funding package.

The U.S. Senate Tuesday evening passed a bill to expand health care benefits to millions of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. With a bipartisan 86 to 11 vote, the PACT Act can now head to the president’s desk.
Montana Senator Steve Daines previously supported the bill but joined 41 other Republicans Wednesday to block the burn pit legislation over concerns of excess federal spending.

O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at
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