Havre Daily News: Tester: Senate Republicans blocked care for veterans

by Patrick Johnston

Montana Sen. Jon Tester in a press conference Thursday said the biggest news relevant to his committees is bad, unfortunately, with the recent rejection of a bill that would have, among other things, expanded home health care for aging and disabled veterans, expanded work for veterans’ service officers, improved the VA’s Caregivers Program and bolstered mental health treatment.

He said it would also help Native Americans and Alaskans, who serve in the military at a higher rate than any other minority group in the U.S., achieve homeownership through affordable loans.

However, he said, despite passing out of committee on a unanimous vote the bill was shot down by 41 Republican Senators who objected to the bill because it allows the government to study the effectiveness of cannabis treatment for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

He said PTSD is the most prominent injury to come out of the U.S. conflicts in the Middle East and those suffering from chronic pain are willing to try practically anything for relief.Tester said the bill would have allowed them to interview cannabis users and study their responses to gauge if their use has been effective, but Republicans have now made that impossible. Tester said this sends the message that the U.S. soldiers are not important and their sacrifices are not valued by their government.

“It wasn’t a particularly proud day in the U.S. Senate yesterday,” he said.

Tester also talked about a recent trip he made to Malmstrom Air Force Base to meet with airmen about a study that came out in January that reported that 9 out of 400 airmen who worked as missileers at the base decades ago have since been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, an unusually high number.

He said he met with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall as well as a few hundred other airmen at the Great Falls base in a town hall meeting to discuss the report and the government’s response.

Tester said the government is studying the issue trying to find possible causes of the cancer.

He said it’s possible that this was a matter of bad luck or a statistical anomaly, but the government has to be sure.

During that trip, he said, they also discussed the recent breaches of Montana airspace by Chinese balloons a few months ago and said that he will be working with Kendall and others on next year’s military budget, making sure it is sufficient to address the country’s adversaries, including China.

During the call Tester was asked about fellow Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., extending his hold on high-ranking military promotions.

Tuberville’s objection is to a Defense Department policy that reimburses service-member or dependent travel for reproductive health care – care that could, potentially, include an abortion.

Tester said this hold is hurting military readiness and the reasons for it are incredibly foolish.

“I like Tuberville, I think he’s a decent man, but this is really stupid,” he said.

He said he’s talked to a lot of people but it appears that unless Tuberville “has an epiphany” he hasn’t found any solution yet.

Tester also talked about the recent proposed debt ceiling legislation from Republicans, which would defund his PACT Act, which funds veteran health care across the U.S.

He said the nation’s debt does need to be addressed, but not through political gamesmanship and certainly not at the cost of veteran health care, which is the responsibility of this government.

“This is a cost of war,” he said.

Tester said he’s also heard concerns about the debt ceiling conflict delaying this years Farm Bill as well as other appropriations bills.

Moving on from military matters, another bill he talked about was the recently introduced Family Farm and Small Business Exemption Act, which would restore exceptions in federal policy for owners of family farmland and small businesses that will allow for more affordable federal student loan aid.

On the subject of farming, he said Montana faces a very different challenge than it has for the past few years along with its late spring.

“It’s too wet,” he said. “It’s kind of a good problem to have.”

He said a lot of areas of Montana are dealing with serious flooding damage, but at least this year has put a serious dent in the drought, and that is a blessing.

When asked about recent meetings he had with representatives of the livestock industry and their concerns about recent proposals from the Bureau of Land Management, he said he would definitely be having some conversations with the Department of the Interior.

“To be honest with you, I think Interior may have interpreted conservation wrong,” he said.

Tester also talked about his objections to the Biden administration’s nominees to the Amtrak Board, which ruffled some feathers among his fellow liberals.

He said 5 of the 6 nominees are from the northeast and the board needs people from rural and western America, which is too frequently ignored by the federal government.

He said he’s been told that Amtrak is replacing a lot of its old cars soon, which will definitely be an improvement for the service.

During the call Tester was also asked about the situation in the Montana Legislature with Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, who was recently barred from the floor due to comments she made during debate of a bill that would have ended gender-affirming care for minors in Montana.

During that debate she said the care saves lives and if Republicans voted for it they would have “blood on their hands.”

For the past few weeks the Legislature’s Republican House Chair has refused to allow Zephyr to speak unless she apologies for the comments, claiming she violated the rules of decorum, which Zephyr has refused to do.

Last week she was barred from the floor for the remainder of the session, the latest development in a controversy that has made national news.

Tester said he understands that things get heated in the Legislature and tempers run high, but what the Republicans did was extreme and undemocratic, adding the Zephyr was trying to represent her constituents and community as best she can.

He said he’d rather Montana be in the national news for addressing inflation, or improving health care or making homeownership more affordable, but this Legislature hasn’t done any of those things and he said he’s met a lot of people who are disgusted by their performance this session.

Tester: Senate Republicans blocked care for veterans – Havre Daily News