HDN Staff and wire report
Continuing his fight to increase benefits for military veterans, Sen. Jon Tester teamed up with Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the U.S. Senate Thursday. Tester introduced Schweitzer during a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee, which examined the Iraq war’s impact on rising health care costs for veterans, a release from Tester’s office said. Schweitzer talked about the “unseen costs” of caring for veterans wounded in the war, especially veterans living in Montana and rural America. “Having more than a third of your state’s Guard out of the country is a tough situation to inherit,” Tester told the Committee, noting that when he was elected in 2004, more than 1,500 members of the Montana National Guard were serving in Iraq. “We know the sacrifice for service- members and their families, and especially for Montana’s National Guardsmen and Reservists.” Last week the Senate unanimously passed legislation sponsored by Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, to officially raise the VA’s mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans from 11 cents to 28.5 cents per mile the first increase in more than 30 years, the release said. In his testimony Thursday, Schweitzer focused on the difficulties of providing care for veterans in a state the size of Montana. Schweitzer told the committee about the difficulty veterans in small towns face in finding mental health professionals able to treat posttraumatic stress disorder and the extra burden on veterans and their families presented by the travel distances to both mental health and other medical services. Schweitzer also spoke about Chris Dana, a 23-year old Iraq veteran from Helena who took his own life in March 2007 after struggling with PTSD. In response to Dana’s suicide, the Montana National Guard established a PTSD task force and began working on a plan to better council Guardsmen who suffer from PTSD. Representatives of the Montana National Guard were in Havre last month to tell people about the program the Guard is putting in place one of the two most-watched programs in the country, along with a program being developed by the Guard in Minnesota, they said. “We can’t put a value on the cost of losing Chris Dana,” Schweitzer said in his written testimony. “The greatest cost to Montana from the Global War on Terror, is, of course the immeasurable loss of soldiers, marines and sailors. Nor can we easily quantify the cost to our families, communities and economy of soldiers and airmen unable to return to their job.” Schweitzer also testified on the impact on readiness. He said it would cost nearly $28 million to make the National Guard 100 percent ready for future missions, including its key role in the state’s response to wildfire season, both for human resource and equipment and material.