Last Wednesday, the White House and each member of Montana’s congressional delegation touted the VA Mission Act that President Trump signed into law that day.

The overhaul of Veterans Affairs health care passed the House on a vote of 347-70 and passed the Senate on a vote of 92-5.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, was invited to the signing ceremony and his office sent out a press release saying he “helped champion” the bill in the Senate.

“I am proud to support the VA Mission Act and its reforms that provide our veterans with more reliable, timely access to high quality care,” U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, said in a press release.

“Our historic law gets rid of the government bureaucracy that has stood between Montana veterans and their health care,” said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, in his press release. Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, the committee chairman, actually wrote key portions of the new law in partnership with U.S. veterans organizations.

“This is truly a historic moment, historic time for our country,” Trump said. “I’ll be signing landmark legislation to provide health care choice — what a beautiful word that is, 'choice' — and freedom to our amazing veterans.”

It’s critical that Congress and the president come together with strong bipartisan support to honor America’s obligations to care for our military veterans. As we commend our delegation and the White House for taking this step toward better, more effective and comprehensive care for America’s heroes, readers should know that major obstacles remain to implementing this new law.


Unfunded benefits

The Mission Act still requires $50 billion in funding, which a bipartisan group of U.S. Senate leaders has a proposal to provide, according to the Washington Post. However, the Trump Administration is lobbying against the Senate plan to raise spending. Instead, a White House memo to Hill staff argues for cutting other government spending to fund veterans care, according to the Military Times.

When a new law is made, it usually needs administrative rules to actually be implemented. The rulemaking for the Mission Act is expected to be contentious, according to the Military Times. Much of the new law addresses how veterans will access non-VA health services. The debate over privatizing the VA will likely be a factor in the rulemaking. Most veterans organizations support improving and sustaining the VA while some members of Congress and the Trump Administration want to outsource care to shrink the VA itself.


Partisan posturing

The Mission Act is largely a reform of the Veterans Choice Act of 2014 that proved to be unworkable for veterans needing timely health care in their community. The failures of the Choice Act must be remedied quickly. The overwhelming House and Senate majorities voting for the Mission Act and Trump’s effusive praise of the new law would seem to bode well for reform that really helps veterans access the care they deserve.

But no Democrats stood at Trump’s side as he signed the Mission Act Wednesday, on the anniversary of the D-Day allied invasion that turned the tide of battle in World War II. Tester wasn’t even invited to the ceremony, Politico reported. Perhaps, that’s part of the “price” the president said Tester would pay for sharing military members’ concerns about the nomination of Dr. Ronny Jackson to lead the VA. Jackson withdrew from consideration and the Pentagon inspector general is investigating the allegations, according to Politico.

There’s little time for celebrating the Mission Act. Montana’s delegation must keep fighting for veterans to get the benefits they have earned. The new law won’t work without adequate funding. Words of praise for the law ring hollow without money to fulfill its promises to veterans.

Congress and the president must figure out how to reduce deficit spending, but those tough political decisions should not be obstacles to providing veterans care. Don’t make veterans pay for delay; fund this critical new VA law now.

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This editorial originally appeared in the Billings Gazette.

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