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Montana Editorial Roundup

June 13, 2018

Billings Gazette, June 10, on paying for U.S. veterans health care:

Last Wednesday, the White House and each member of Montana’s congressional delegation touted the VA Mission Act that President Trump signed into law that day.

The overhaul of Veterans Affairs health care passed the House on a vote of 347-70 and passed the Senate on a vote of 92-5.

Sen. Steve Daines was invited to the signing ceremony and his office sent out a press release saying he “helped champion” the bill in the Senate.

“I am proud to support the VA Mission Act and its reforms that provide our veterans with more reliable, timely access to high quality care,” Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Montana, said in a press release.

“Our historic law gets rid of the government bureaucracy that has stood between Montana veterans and their health care,” said Sen. Jon Tester in his press release. Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, the committee chairman, actually wrote key portions of the new law in partnership with U.S. veterans organizations.

“This is truly a historic moment, historic time for our country,” Trump said. “I’ll be signing landmark legislation to provide health care choice — what a beautiful word that is, ‘choice’ — and freedom to our amazing veterans.”

It’s critical that Congress and the president come together with strong bipartisan support to honor America’s obligations to care for our military veterans. As we commend our delegation and the White House for taking this step toward better, more effective and comprehensive care for America’s heroes, readers should know that major obstacles remain to implementing this new law.

Unfunded benefits

The Mission Act still requires $50 billion in funding, which a bipartisan group of U.S. Senate leaders has a proposal to provide, according to the Washington Post. However, the Trump Administration is lobbying against the Senate plan to raise spending. Instead, a White House memo to Hill staff argues for cutting other government spending to fund veterans care, according to The Military Times.

When a new law is made, it usually needs administrative rules to actually be implemented. The rulemaking for the Mission Act is expected to be contentious, according to the Military Times. Much of the new law addresses how veterans will access non-VA health services. The debate over privatizing the VA will likely be a factor in the rulemaking. Most veterans organizations support improving and sustaining the VA while some members of Congress and the Trump Administration want to outsource care to shrink the VA itself.

Partisan posturing

The Mission Act is largely a reform of the Veterans Choice Act of 2014 that proved to be unworkable for veterans needing timely health care in their community. The failures of the Choice Act must be remedied quickly. The overwhelming House and Senate majorities voting for the Mission Act and Trump’s effusive praise of the new law would seem to bode well for reform that really helps veterans access the care they deserve.

But no Democrats stood at Trump’s side as he signed the Mission Act last Wednesday, on the anniversary of the D-Day allied invasion that turned the tide of battle in World War II. Tester wasn’t even invited to the ceremony, Politico reported. Perhaps, that’s part of the “price” the president said Tester would pay for sharing military members’ concerns about the nomination of Dr. Ronny Jackson to lead the VA. Jackson withdrew from consideration and the Pentagon inspector general is investigating the allegations, according to Politico.

There’s little time for celebrating the Mission Act. Montana’s delegation must keep fighting for veterans to get the benefits they have earned. The new law won’t work without adequate funding. Words of praise for the law ring hollow without money to fulfill its promises to veterans.

Congress and the president must figure out how to reduce deficit spending, but those tough political decisions should not be obstacles to providing veterans care. Don’t make veterans pay for delay; fund this critical new VA law now.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2sQcijA

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Montana Standard, June 10, on a proposal to ban barber-shop pups:

Here’s a chance an editorial writer doesn’t get all that often, but needs to make the most of. We take up the cudgel today for man’s best friend. Which is to say, for our collective mental health, because nothing feels better in a day full of stress than an interaction with a pooch.

True, this writer’s canine experiences all too frequently involve chasing a Labrador with springs for legs after she has soared over our back gate. But that’s another matter entirely, between me, Animal Control and the folks giving me price quotes on Southern-Border-style walls.

But we digress. What we really wish to advocate for is the presence of pooches. In barber shops.

The Montana State Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists is considering banning the beasts from salons and barber shops, because they’re unsanitary.

Please.

We find ourselves for once in perfect harmony with those who rail about the excesses of the nanny state. Government does not exist to protect us from dogs in barber shops. This is not an advancement in public health. This is a bureaucratic boondoggle and it must be stopped.

A quiet, tail-wagging companion while one is reading a three-year-old copy of Sports Illustrated and waiting for grooming is not a bad thing. It is to be encouraged, not banned.

Several barbers testified before the board this week that banning mutts would hurt their businesses. And why would that be? Because customers enjoy the shops’ resident dogs.

If we leave the shop with a little less of our own hair and a little more of Rover’s attached to our pants leg, we can live with that.

What’s next? Protecting the public from cats napping in bookstore windows?

The comment period for this proposed abomination ended Friday. Don’t pay any attention to that. Please continue to let the board of Bureaucratic Cosmonauts know how you feel about this:

Comments can be emailed to dlibsdcos@mt.gov; faxed to 406-841-2305 or sent vial U.S. mail to 301 S. Park Ave., PO Box 200513, Helena, MT 59620-0513.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2l5uVvV

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Bozeman Daily Chronicle, June 7, on the launch of a mental health campaign:

Mental illness remains in the shadows unlike almost any other human condition. Its victims are viewed with a mix of fear and suspicion. The mental illness is often - consciously or unconsciously - regarded as a sort of character flaw. The very nature of mental illness is mysterious to us and regarded as menacing and sinister.

Because of these misguided perceptions, the mentally ill lack the widespread advocacy found for so many other illnesses. As public policy is developed, help and consideration for the mentally all too often falls to the bottom of priorities. We see it in our Legislature, when programs to address mental illness are among the first on the budget-cutting block. And the chilling stigma associated with mental illness discourages victims from talking about their problems and seeking the help that is available to them.

And so it was very encouraging to see mental health care providers and advocates get together last month to launch a campaign to lift some of the stigma associated with mental illness in Montana. Spearheaded by Bozeman Health, the campaign has been seven months in the works with the goal of breaking down barriers to mental health services for victims and fostering open dialogue that will eliminate the discomfort too often associated with talking about mental illness.

It wasn’t that long ago that there were virtually no resources for victims of mental illness in Bozeman. Episodes were dealt with by transporting victims to the state hospital at Warm Springs. And to be taken away from family, friends and familiar environs to a an institution more than 100 miles distant was the worst possible outcome for these victims.

We’ve come a long way from those days. There are many more public and private options for seeking treatment. But as the region’s population grows, the demands on those services increase correspondingly, leaving many victims without the help they need as evidenced by the fact that Montana still has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.

Expanding mental health care services must become a priority and a good first step is to break down the barriers that keep us from seeking it or even talking about it. Let’s hope this recently launched campaign succeeds in doing that.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2HJa4Hq

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