Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
Montana’s freshman U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said he “absolutely” supports the idea of starting another Veterans Affairs clinic in Montana, an idea for which Havre veteran Merril Lundman has started trying to gather support. “I think the clinics are a success story for the VA and they need to reach out to veterans in the rural areas,” Tester, a member of the Senate VA Committee, said during a telephone press conference Tuesday. Lundman has put out notebooks along the Hi-Line for people to sign showing they support the idea, and has asked local political and business leaders to write him in support of the idea. New clinics are now scheduled to start in Lewistown and Cut Bank. Qualified veterans receive help paying for for work done at VA clinics and hospitals. Montana’s U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, a Republican, said this morning that he also supports starting new clinics in Montana. “Its essential we provide the best possible facilities to those who have served in the armed services,” Rehberg said. “As Montana’s lone representative Ill do everything I can to increase access for Montana veterans to health care including supporting any additional VA clinics looking To open in Montana’s rural communities.” Montana’s Democratic senior Sen. Max Baucus said this morning he also supports the effort. “Veterans in Montana have travelled thousands of miles to serve their country, they shouldn’t have to travel hundreds of miles to access VA facilities,” Baucus said. “Montana is a big place, and I’d support any effort to help get more health care services across our state.” Tester, who said he plans to travel the state talking to his constituents during Congress’ August recess, lists some achievements in the area of Veterans Affairs as his successes in his first session of Congress, including more than doubling the mileage allowance for qualified veterans to travel to VA clinics or hospitals, although he said he thinks many improvements can be made. “We need to do this stuff. It has to be fair and balanced,” he said during the press conference. “ Sometimes you wonder why (the VA’s) feet are dragging.” Tester said the mileage allowance to travel for medical treatment had been at 11 cents a mile. He wanted to raise that to 48 cents a mile, but had to settle for 28.5 cents for now, he said. He intends to continue working to increase that allowance, he added. Other recent improvements in the VA include adding the two new clinics set for Lewistown and Cut Bank, and creation of a new veterans cemetary in Missoula, Tester said. Some of the comments with which Tester started the news conference included complimenting Baucus on work to increase funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which the states administer. “It’s been a great program and I applaud Sen. Baucus’ efforts,” Tester said. The increase, which Baucus proposes funding through an increase in tobacco taxes, has had some opposition by tobacco users and opponents of sin taxes. Signature lists are being circulated in Havre in opposition to the tax increase. Tester, who farms near Big Sandy, said he thinks work on the 2007 Farm Bill is going well. One point he cited was work by his Montana colleague Sen. Max Baucus, also a Democrat, to create a permanent disaster relief fund for agricultural producers. The last appropriations for disaster relief included funds ag producers requested two years ago, and farmers and ranchers shouldn’t have to wait that long, he said. “We’re working hard to get a safety net for our growers so in a time of disaster they don’t have to come back to Washington to beg for money,” Tester said. He said part of his job is to make the people at the capital understand what the farm programs provide to ag producers. “They think it’s just a welfare program when it’s not,” Tester said. Tester also cited addition of nutritional programs, including food stamp programs, as a good part of the 2007 Farm Bill, which contradicts comments made by Rehberg in an interview Tuesday. Rehberg said the food stamp part of the House bill, as well as addition of programs to help poor people internationally, divert the bill from its purpose: to help U.S. ag producers. He reluctantly voted for the bill, which passed the House last week, hoping to address his concerns once it goes to conference committee with the Senate, he said. “If it continues down this path it will less and less address the needs of rural Montana, but I wanted to move the process forward,” he said. The program to help feed the poor of other nations doesn’t even buy American produce to do so, he said. The bill proposes spending hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ag products from the European Union, because it would reduce the cost of shipping it to those in need, he said. That means U. S. taxpayers will be paying for purchases overseas and losing business at the same time, Rehberg said. Tester also said work is being done in Congress to help rural schools in the country, including funding for roads and schools that would primarily benefit schools in forested areas but are targeted toward rural education systems.