HELENA — U.S. House candidates Ryan Zinke and John Lewis courted veterans Tuesday with ideas to make their voices heard and ways to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in the wake of a scandal.
Zinke released a plan that touches on VA accountability, better care without long delays, more help from support organizations, help in matching vets with jobs, better awareness of education benefits and suicide prevention.
“We promised that we would make sure our veterans were welcomed home with open arms, that they would be provided access to education, that their families would be cared for, and that they would receive access to the best health care possible,” said the Republican veteran and former state senator. “We need to do a better job of keeping our promises.”
Zinke’s plan supports increased scrutiny of VA administration and allowing patients to receive care in non-VA clinics. He also said he wants more of the money allocated for the VA to go toward local service providers and clinics. He said he’d support funding increases to that end but also would want to see where the money is currently being spent.
He said a business environment that’s more supportive of veterans needs to be fostered and said aligning industry standards with military standards, where possible, could help veterans transition to jobs when they return home.
Lewis, Zinke’s Democratic opponent, has created an advisory council open to Montana veterans and their families.
“When members of the military serve our nation, often times the entire family shares in the sacrifice,” Lewis said in an email. “That’s why I’m inviting parents, children and spouses to join in our advisory council to make sure that we are as responsive as possible to the unique needs of military families across the state.”
The Montana Veterans and Military Families for Lewis Advisory Council currently is made up of 17 veterans and military family members who have been advising him and helping him campaign since this spring, according to spokeswoman Kathy Weber. Lewis plans to hold conference calls with the group periodically to discuss policy ideas and concerns about care in rural areas.
“There’s nothing partisan about honoring our promises to those who have served our country,” said Lewis, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Max Baucus. “Fighting for our veterans is something that should always transcend politics.”
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