Montana Standard: Montana view: COST of War Act is a bill delegation should agree on

As we spent Thursday celebrating Veterans’ Day, many words were said by many speakers at many events honoring veterans across Montana.

That’s as it should be. The price of liberty is breathtakingly steep, and no state has paid a higher price than Montana.

We are proud of the contributions of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, but also couldn’t be prouder of those who served and came back to live under the Big Sky with the freedom they earned.

Veterans comprise roughly 10 percent of our state’s population. Their military service may be over but may of them still serve their communities across Montana in thousands of ways.

The words of gratitude voiced Thursday are appropriate and important. “Thank you for your service” can never be said enough. But we must back up those words by demanding that our federal government redouble its efforts to heal, support and honor its veterans.

It’s as simple as this: If we can send our sons and daughters into harm’s way – as we have just finished doing for more than two decades in Afghanistan – we can absolutely pay to support them and bind up their wounds once they return. If we cannot, we should not send them to fight in the first place.

Which brings us to the Compensation and Overdue Support for Troops (COST) of War Act, introduced by Montana’s Jon Tester.

Tester, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the bill is designed to bring desperately needed assistance to veterans exposed to toxic substances.

There are far more of those than many of us realize.

Soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Those in all branches exposed to toxics in smoke from burn pits. Service members exposed to asbestos, lead and other “occupational” hazards. The thousands of veterans suffering from “Gulf War Syndrome.” Veterans exposed to depleted-uranium armaments and other sources of radiation. Veterans who were exposed during their service time to contaminated water – which shockingly includes thousands of Marines who served at Camp LeJeune and drank water contaminated with benzene, vinyl chloride, TCE, PCE and other harmful chemicals. And more.

Many Montana veterans fall into one or more of these groups.

Tester’s legislation allocates $430 billion to be spent over 10 years, including $180 billion for direct health care and $250 billion in other benefits.

“Fighting wars costs a lot of money,” Tester said this week.

Yes, it does. And not taking care of our veterans is like paying that bill with a bounced check.

We trust this measure will quickly win bipartisan and full-throated support in both houses of Congress. All members of Montana’s delegation should find this bill to be something the group can agree on.