Montana veterans, a spouse and a firefighter were among those who pushed back Tuesday against a campaign ad released by Matt Rosendale, which suggests Sen. Jon Tester’s 19 bills signed into law by President Donald Trump this Congress amounted to “little stuff.”
That little stuff, veterans argued in a media call, have made a big difference in ensuring VA facilities are property staffed, and it has changed how they access health care through the VA and pursue careers after service using education assistance.
“I don’t know how any progress for Montana’s vets or citizens alike could be considered little stuff,” said Patience Woodill of Missoula, whose family has a long history of service, including World War II, Vietnam and Iraq. “I don’t know where Rosendale got that, but for those of us who work and live, day in and day out with veterans, the little stuff is actually the big stuff.”
In his ad, Rosendale says, “Jon Tester talks about the handful of times he votes for President Donald Trump, but he won’t tell you about the big votes.”
Rosendale goes on to say that while Trump has signed 19 of Tester’s bills into law, Tester has voted against Trump’s policies 75 percent of the time. That includes Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court and tax reform, which Tester voted against, saying it would add nearly $1.5 trillion to the national deficit.
“Montana needs a senator who stands with President Trump on the big stuff, and doesn’t brag about the little stuff,” Rosendale said.
Rosendale spokesperson Shane Scanlon said Tester is proving Rosendale’s point.
“Being a U.S. Senator isn’t about voting on unanimous or near unanimous pieces of legislation,” Scanlon said. “It’s about standing up and taking the tough the votes, going up against Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to stand up for Montana. Time and time again on the issues that Montanans care about, guns, sanctuary cities, judges and tax cuts, Jon Tester has opposed President Trump and voted against the people of Montana.”
Veterans on Tuesday’s call took issue with Rosendale’s take on the so-called little stuff that’s key to their well being, and they suggested the current state auditor has a long history of voting against veterans issues.
Mike Lawson, commander of the Southwest Montana Veterans Council, said that includes Rosendale’s vote against funding a veterans home in southwest Montana.
“I have not seen any viable support for veterans causes come from Mr. Rosendale,” Lawson said. “Sen. Tester, from the very start, has been a champion for veterans causes in Montana and the nation. To the veteran, that’s big stuff. When Matt Rosendale says it’s little stuff, it verifies the continuing lack of respect he has for Montana veterans.”
Earlier this month, Tester’s campaign highlighted Trump’s praise for several pieces of key legislation introduced by Tester, including the VA Mission Act and the VA Accountability Act. On the latter, Trump said, “I’m proud of that one.”
Bernie Jacobs, a U.S. Army veteran who lives in Helena, said he benefits from living close to the VA Medical Center at Fort Harrison. But most Montana veterans don’t have the same luxury, and Tester’s legislation has helped simplify their care.
“It’s not very hard for me to get in there and get my health care,” said Jacobs. “But when I go there and sit around in the living room and talk to other vets and listen to the conversations going on around me, I begin to realize how much of an issue it is for a lot of these vets to get to Helena for their care.”
The Choice Act was passed by Congress in 2014 to give veterans living far from a VA facility the option to receive care closer to home. But the legislation was flawed, and Tester addressed it by sponsoring the VA Mission Act.
That came after a series of public hearings Tester held in Montana, including one in Missoula in May 2017. Jacobs said the legislative fix was fundamental to improvement the VA healthcare system.
“That corrected a lot of the problems in the Choice Act,” said Jacobs. “Sen. Tester has proven his dedication to Montana veterans by the way he’s followed through on that.”
Tuesday’s press call coincided with a handful of rallies held in cities across the state, including Missoula. Standing outside the office of the Montana Republican Party on Brooks Street, several Montana veterans expressed concern over Rosendale’s history on VA issues.
“I introduced many veteran-oriented bills when I was a state senator, and I never remember him signing onto any of them as a cosigner,” said Cliff Larson of Missoula. “A lot of them were legitimate and got large majorities, including many Republicans. I don’t think he’s very concerned about some of the interest groups, like veterans and older people. All those things that affect families, he seems to be absent.”
Alex Taft, a veteran, also attended Tuesday’s rally. As a regular to the VA clinic in Missoula, he’s seen the system improve under legislation carried by Tester.
“My doctor was so overworked at the VA that she quit,” he said. “It took a while to get a replacement. Now, because of (Tester’s) law allowing the VA to increase hiring, I have a new doctor and a new registered nurse. These are not small things for me, and I imagine for other vets as well.”