[Note from MOAA: U.S. Sen. Jon Tester will receive MOAA's 2019 Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award. The award is given annually to lawmakers who have distinguished themselves in protecting the rights and interests of uniformed servicemembers, their families, and survivors. Read about all of MOAA's 2019 award winners here.]
By Kristin Davis
Sen. Jon Tester learned to play bugle at his local VFW as a boy in Big Sandy, Mont. There, he listened to the stories of America's vanishing World War I veterans and gained a deep appreciation for the contributions of the greatest generation.
He remembers in particular Howard Allderdice, a farmer, long-time justice of the peace, and former Army private who still fit into his World War I uniform. Sometimes, Tester played the bugle at veterans' funerals. They were sobering occasions. But they impressed upon him the sacrifices of America's military.
“It stuck with me throughout my life,” says Tester, a Democrat from Montana and a ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee since 2016.
After his election to the Senate in 2007, Tester, not a veteran himself, sought to find out more about the issues facing them. He hosted town hall meetings and roundtable discussions.
“I got to hear from the Vietnam veterans. They were what the World War II veterans were when I was in high school,” Tester says. Only they'd faced a much different experience on their return home.
“One guy told me when he got off the airplane, no one was there to meet him, not even his family. He had to hitchhike home,” he says.
There was also a new generation of servicemembers who'd fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You didn't have to look very far to see where the needs were,” Tester says, and he made it his mission to serve those who served America.
MOAA is honoring Tester for his work on behalf of veterans with its 2019 Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award, named for the retired Marine Corps officer who founded MOAA.
During his first term as ranking member on the SVAC, Tester got 11 veterans bills signed into law, including the VA MISSION Act, which could fundamentally change how veterans get health care, and the Veterans Education Assistant Act, which removes a 15-year expiration date on GI Bill benefits.
His Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act aims to streamline the lengthy, complex process for veterans appealing their claims for disability benefits. His VA Accountability and Whistleblower Act allows the VA to quickly fire bad employees while protecting due process rights, strengthens protections for whistleblowers and provides more training for VA leadership.
He also helped ensure funding for troop strength increase and pay raises.
“I think what we did this last Congress may be the most effective for veterans ever,” says Tester, who continues to be inspired by a century of servicemembers.
Related reading: MOAA's 2019 Award Winners.
Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award
Sen. Jon Tester
Distinguished Service Award
Colonel Paul W. Arcari Meritorious Service Award