By Josh Manning
Josh Manning is a combat veteran and serves on the leadership team of Common Defense, a group of progressive veterans who want to affect political change. You can follow him on Twitter @joshuamanning23
National, Montana GOP No Longer Lead on Veterans Issues
When I first joined the military in the fall of 2001, my mother fretted that it would turn me into a Republican. People have long associated the military and veterans with the Republican party. They wrapped themselves in the flag, praised our sacrifices, and used us as props to get elected. For a long time the public believed the Republican cared for American servicemen and women but the Democrats were against all of that.Then something strange happened behind the scenes. The military became stretched by Republican-sponsored wars with much propaganda,
Then something strange happened behind the scenes. The military became stretched by Republican-sponsored wars with much propaganda, little planning, and no end. The agency tasked with serving veterans, the VA, became an idol (rightly so) for all that is broken in the federal government. When asked to solve any of these issues, the Republicans threw up their hands and collectively shrugged.
In the face of adversity and bureaucratic inertia, people can sit back and complain (the Republicans) or someone can step forward and be a leader. Luckily, this flat-topped organic farmer from north-central Montana named Jon Tester decided he could be such a leader and has made incredible gains on veterans issues since he went to the Senate ten years ago.
On April 5, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously (say that out loud, readers) passed a bill Tester sponsored to make needed changed to Veterans’ Choice Act. That program allows veterans to go to a private physician for care rather than have to wait for VA hospital care. While I have growing concerns about plans to privatize the VA, the Choice program has been a wonder for veterans and offers them great care without having to wait months for a simple appointment. Tester also stepped forward for our nation’s women veterans by promoting the Deborah Sampson Act to promote and expand care for women in the VA.
Meanwhile, Republicans are more than happy to talk about how much they support and will defend veterans but when it comes time to question wars, ask about military preparedness, or expand VA care they sit on their hands. Progressives are the ones now taking up the mantle to support our troops and veterans by asking the hard questions about militarism and how we can care for those who have fought in all our nation’s wars.
For the Montana GOP, it will be continued lip service. Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, a billionaire tied to our nation’s oligarchs, has said little (there should be a period here) about Montana’s veterans. His Web site devotes a few sentences to veterans but little more than that because he is following the script by wrapping himself in the flag and patriotism. But outside of his grandstanding, Gianforte said people should retire after 600 years of service because Noah was a model to emulate. If we elect someone who said our nation’s veterans should serve in combat for nearly 600 years before being able to retire than we have reached a pinnacle of idiocy.
While Congress was able to pass a bill for veteran support unanimously (hello, Freedom Caucus…), the Montana legislature has continually left veterans behind this session. The GOP-extremist’s appropriations committee has all but killed a bill to provide tax and license benefits to Montana veterans. Oh, the target of the bill (HB 596) are veterans who are disabled and received some of our nation’s highest honors. Dead in committee. Another bill (HB 612) similar to Tester’s bill for VA Choice, offers options through the state to local veterans. It is a companion piece and will further expand medical care to Montana veterans. This bill passed through the Montana house but was met with skepticism and disgusting diatribes by some legislators. Eleven Republican legislators voted against it… 11… nearly a quarter of the GOP caucus. People call Congress broken, but this session has shown us how broken our own system is. The Montana GOP does not stand up for or support veterans. They sit on their hands when it comes time to fund us or have to be bullied by leadership to support simple measures to give us care.
So no, mom, I did not become a Republican. In fact, I used the progressive values you instilled in me to make sure my brothers and sisters in arms have people questioning creeping militarism and ensuring those who did go into battle have the care they deserve. That is why I will never be a Republican in the model of today’s party: too extreme and beholden to corporate interests to care about those of us who sacrificed for something greater than them. But if you are a Republican who can get beyond the extremist party line, then let us restore sanity and better serve everyone.