For generations Montanans have signed up to serve our nation with pride, answering the call of duty during times of peace and times of war.
In fact, more there are more veterans per capita in Montana than almost any other state in the nation.
When America needs them, Lincoln Countyís men and women have always been there to serve.
Our veterans have made great sacrifices to keep our nation safe, and when they return home they deserve the health care and benefits they earned.
But as our country goes on nearly 17 years of war in the Middle East, combined with aging Vietnam, Korean and WWII veterans, the VA canít keep up with the growing demand for health care. And our heroes are paying the price.
Iíve heard too many unacceptable stories from Montanans during my in-person town hall meetings ó long wait times, long drives to see a doctor, being sent to the wrong doctor, or getting a medical bill that you shouldnít have to pay for.
Itís no secret that the VA Choice Program didnít work, which is why for the past year Iíve worked with military and veterans groups to find a better solution.
Since I became the ranking member of the Senate Veteransí Affairs Committee, Iíve been working with Republicans and Democrats and anyone else who had input to guarantee our veterans get a VA that listens to them.
So I partnered with Chairman Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, to write the VA MISSION Act (VA Maintaining Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act). Our bill eliminates the Choice Program and replaces it with a system that puts Montanaís veterans back in charge of their own health care. This month, President Trump signed our reform bill into law.
Our bill cuts red-tape to allow veterans and their doctors to make medical decisions without being forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops.
It expands capacity within the VA to reduce wait times and it uses local health care providers like Cabinet Peaks Medical Center to fill in the gaps where the VA falls short.
Lincoln Countyís veterans will now be able to get quicker, more reliable health care closer to home.
To help eliminate VA staffing shortages, the VA MISSION Act also takes steps to incentivize more doctors to work at rural and under-served VA facilities, and it expands the VA Caregivers Program to veterans of all eras.
Our veterans did their duty to keep us safe, protecting our freedom, our way of life, and our strength as a country. The VA MISSION Act will help ensure our nation delivers on its promise to all who have served, because we owe it to them.
I will be relentless for those who have served. I will always defend them from harmful decisions in Washington, D.C., and I will do my part to build a better, stronger VA.
Veterans deserve no less.
Sen. Jon Tester is a third-generation Montana farmer and the stateís senior U.S. Senator.