Several Montana veterans on Thursday defended Sen. Jon Tester’s push to fully vet Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who withdrew his nomination to become secretary of Veterans Affairs.
President Donald Trump added to the mix by targeting Tester, saying he should “have a big price to pay” with voters this November for the part he played in questioning Jackson’s qualifications and allegations of misconduct.
But a group of Montana veterans said not so fast. They gathered outside Tester’s office in downtown Missoula on Thursday afternoon to say Montana’s senior senator did the right thing by looking into Jackson’s past.
“We want to make it clear that Montana veterans stand with Jon Tester, just like he’s fought for us, and that politics has no place when it comes to picking one of the most important jobs in the country,” said Andrew Person, a veteran of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Congress has a critical role here in making sure whoever is nominated to lead the VA is ready to go, and Tester was doing the right thing.”
Both Republicans and Democrats had questioned Jackson’s experience and his ability to run the VA – the second largest agency in the federal government. That came to a head on Tuesday when the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs postponed its scheduled hearing to consider Jackson’s nomination.
Tester, a ranking member of the committee, and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who serves as the committee’s chairman, asked the White House to provide documentation on Jackson’s past. They did so after nearly two-dozen service members and former colleagues approached the committee with allegations of misconduct against Jackson.
Those ranged from a toxic work environment to drunkenness on the job and his prescription drug practices while heading the White House Medical Unit. Missoula veterans said Tester and Isakson were correct in investigating the claims before considering Jackson’s nomination.
“We’re not here to defend those allegations, but any person on the street will tell you the admiral didn’t have the experience to run such a large organization,” said Navy veteran Alex Taft. “From the start, he didn’t get the kind of vetting presidents normally give people with such a large responsibility.”
The veterans also said it was wrong of Trump to question Tester’s commitment to veterans. During the current Congress, Tester authored and Trump has signed eight separate bills pertaining to the VA, including the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Veterans Choice Program Improvement Act.
Other Tester bills include cost of living adjustments for veterans, simplifying the disability appeals process, addressing VA workforce and hiring practices, and extending the G.I. Bill so it doesn’t arbitrarily expire, among others signed by Trump.
“Tester has an indisputable love and affection for veterans across Montana, and he’s shown that throughout his career in the Senate,” said Vietnam veteran Cliff Larson. “We can see what he’s doing for our friends and neighbors.”
Person added, “Tester did exactly the right thing by vetting whoever is nominated for the job and making sure that person is ready.”