Montana has been blessed to have senators who can leave a significant imprint on federal government and policy: Mike Mansfield helped pave the way for civil rights reform and served as the majority leader, Lee Metcalf was a conservation pioneer for the state and nation, and Max Baucus led the all-important finance committee and later served as the U.S. Ambassador to China. Montana now has a new champion in this trying time for American democracy–Jon Tester, the so-called simple farmer from Big Sandy.
Tester has led the evolving investigation into Department of Veteran’s Affairs nominee Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson that made major news yesterday. Military personnel told Tester that Jackson handed out prescription drugs to them, often drank on duty, and created a “toxic” working environment by being abusive to his staff. Later news revealed problems uncovered during an internal military Inspector General report on Jackson’s White House Medical Unit from the Obama administration that cast further doubt on his abilities to lead such a trying bureaucracy.
In any other time, Tester’s public airing of these issues would have scuttled the nomination. Indeed, as of the late morning and early afternoon the president seemed to signal that Jackson should withdraw from consideration. He flagrantly questioned if Jackson really wanted the job. You know, the job taking care of the millions of veterans from decades of American wars who simply want some health care for the wounds, both physical and mental, they have endured. But literally hours later and by the close of the business day, it became apparent Jackson would not withdraw his nomination, wanted an actual hearing, and had Trump’s support in all of this. Many of us have become used to the Trump news cycle of one day seeming like that happens in the course of weeks and months but yesterday was the Trump News Cycle on ritalin.
Montana’s senior senator did not back down. Tester took to radio and television by evening to explain what he heard from nearly two dozen military members willing to speak with the ranking Democrat on the Veteran’s Affairs committee. Tester, who speaks of his willingness to engage in the seemingly antiquated idea of bipartisanship, also appears to have the support of the ranking Republican, Johnny Isakson of Georgia.
The more I hear about Jackson the more it becomes apparent Trump did nothing to vet his nominee and either assumed the Republican senate would rubber stamp the nomination or felt the stars on Jackson’s uniform would guarantee him an easy path. Once installed, Jackson would have been overwhelmed by the position and would not have noticed the bureaucratic maneuverings under his nose meant to slowly, but assuredly, privatize VA hospitals. This is the ultimate Koch Brothers desire. You know, the same folks who fund our junior senator Steve Daines. You know, the guy who said absolutely nothing about the Jackson nomination or allegations on the day it led every newscast in the United States. Tester showed up for Montana, the highest per capita population of veterans in the nation, while Daines counted his campaign cash and hoped for more with his fealty.
Jackson’s personal issues are also some key issues for the VA. Jackson was known as the “Candy Man” for giving out drugs (probably Ambien in this case, it was a relatively easy drug to procure for long military flights) but this also happens to be a problem for VA hospitals that hand out opiods like “candy” because it is easier to give someone 16 different pain medications (click this link and read this amazing investigative piece) than deal with the actual underlying problems. Jackson drank heavily, even by day and while working, which is another problem for America’s veterans. Jackson also was abusive to staff and did not handle leadership challenges or stress well, which are problems he will face hourly at the VA. All of these problems point to a nominee that would not do much of anything to fix issues endemic to the VA and the people it serves. Again, this would be a clarion call to privatization since a man with “stars” could not solve the problems.
It is now beyond time that everyone abandons the idea Republicans are the party that best represents American veterans. Sure, they roll forward a bunch of chickenhawk warmongers who ooze testosterone and profit off their views to lead this nation into further foolish Forever Wars they never have a good plan to wage or, more importantly, end. They never say anything about actual reforms to the nation’s largest health care provider for the people they send to wars. They only duck and cover when things get scary and expect people like Tester to fix things. Jon does this again and again. He has also been willing to take the hard votes so Montana’s citizen soldiers do not end up in wars craven cheerleaders like Zinke, Rehberg, or Daines want to lead us into.
Having sat next to him along with a table of other veterans, Tester does not talk or interrupt as we explain the problems and issues we face. Daines, for political gain, postures and talks about the problems others have caused. Tester takes it all in then figures out ways to solve the problems. That is the leadership this state’s and nation’s veterans need. For all the side issues we get distracted with, I never lose sight of his leadership on this key issue. That is why Jon will never lose my vote. He showed this on his willingness to shine a light on an awful nominee for the VA and we owe him a debt of gratitude.
So if Trump and Jackson want to go before the committee and have Tester ask questions, please, fellows, proceed. If they want to see the look on his face when he appears unflappable and has his glasses down the bridge of his nose to lay into them as he has done to bankers and numerous other scammers before his committees, then please feel free. The more people want to give Tester a podium as the leader on issues and policies facing this nation’s brave veterans and military communities, then the better our nation’s future. I, for one, cannot wait for the Jackson nomination hearings and votes if that is what he really wants. We will finally get clarity on who stands for our nation’s heroes.