Veteran support: Senator Tester Speaks at Ravalli County Museum event

by Michelle McConnaha

At the 26th Veteran’s Day ceremony at the Ravalli County Museum in Hamilton, Wednesday, U.S. Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., announced the passage of an amended bill that will provide additional funding for veterans’ medical services.

In a 93-0 vote on Tuesday, the Senate passed Tester’s Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations bill, which funds the Veterans Administration (VA) through September 2016.

In order to make sure the VA has the resources it needs to care for veterans, Tester offered an amendment on the Senate floor that shored up funding for the VA by increasing funding by $1.9 billion for total discretionary spending of $79.7 billion. His amendment was approved unanimously.

“This $1.9 billion is what the VA needs to better care for veterans,” said Tester. “You have my word that I will be scrutinizing how every dollar is spent because we can’t afford to make these investments without knowing that they are producing results for the courageous service members who have earned it.”

Montana has about 100,000 veterans. More than 5,000 of those live in Ravalli County.

Tester said the average wait time is more than seven days for veterans to see their primary physician in the VA in Missoula. In Great Falls, the average wait is more than 20 days.

“This is unacceptable,” Tester said. “Folks in Washington have been quick to send our service members into harm’s way, but they have failed to understand that taking care of our veterans is a cost of war. Too many folks in D.C. fail to understand – service and sacrifice are obligations veterans accepted willingly when they signed up, or were called to serve. But when we fail to support our veterans, we are dishonoring that service and sacrifice.”

Tester also called for more transparency and accountability of VA leadership, specifically in the treatment of veterans. He said he is building partnerships with hospitals and health care providers to create more residencies for young doctors, recruit more mental health care providers, hire more physician assistants to reduce wait times, and extend benefits to more of the veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.

Beyond improving medical care, Tester said he co-wrote a bill with a Republican Senator from Kansas that will help veterans start their own business.

“My efforts to improve life for Montana veterans will never stop,” Tester said. “I can’t think of anything more important than living up to the commitment that this nation makes to those who serve.”

Tester spoke to 75 community members and veterans following the laying of wreaths at the Doughboy statue in front of the museum.

Other guest speakers were Commandant Joseph Rogish of the Bitterroot Marine Corps League and Commander Greg Marose of American Legion Post No. 47 Hamilton.

Rogish said serving in the military is a calling.

“It’s like being a member of the clergy or a U.S. Senator – it’s to serve others,” Rogish said. “Only 10 percent of people have ever been in the military – it’s not for everybody. It’s a tough, tough profession.”

Marose said the American Legion is veterans helping veterans.

“Veterans don’t ask for much and don’t want to be in a special class, but benefits are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the financial and human cost of war,” Marose said. “Veterans have given us freedom, security and the greatest nation on earth. It is impossible to put a price on that.”

The speeches and music were held inside the museum after a 21-gun salute.