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Op-ed: Montana veterans disappointed by Zinke’s failure to lead

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As Montana veterans, we feel it’s our duty and obligation to hold our elected officials accountable for living up to the promises that they make to us and our families.

Montana has a long, proud tradition of military service. A higher percentage of our men and women serve in the military than almost every other state. Our veterans are proud patriots who put their unit and their country ahead of themselves.

Unfortunately, Congressman Ryan Zinke seems to have forgotten what military service is all about. And that’s exactly why we stood on the steps of our capitol in Helena to share our frustration that the congressman plays politics with Montana veterans.

Make no mistake: We’re not dismissing Congressman Zinke’s service in the Navy SEALs. But we’re expressing our disappointment in how he’s chosen to serve his fellow veterans as a member of Congress.

Congressman Zinke has spent his time in office shamelessly touting his military service while at the same time disparaging and undermining veterans.

Congressman Zinke once compared veterans who receive U.S. Veterans Affairs benefits to “economic slaves.” How can he equate men and women who served our nation and earned the benefits that come with that service to slaves?

At the same time, Congressman Zinke himself has received almost $2,000 each month in veterans’ benefits.

The congressman also told Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on a talk show “don’t be a victim,” while voting against $15 million for veterans’ health services and making it harder for VA workers to report evidence of wrongdoing.

We’ve all seen trouble at the VA—from wait times to lack of critical care for too many veterans—and we expect our elected leaders to help fix it. But how can the VA improve if Congressman Zinke stands in the way of efforts to make it work better?

We’re also appalled that Congressman Zinke skips votes on veterans’ issues to promote his own brand on cable news stations.
We, too, have served. In fact, one of us also served as a Navy SEAL, but bragging about our accomplishments—the number of people we’ve killed—was never part of our training. But Congressman Zinke brags about his kills.

The congressman also supports a presidential candidate in Donald Trump who insults families of fallen soldiers, prisoners of war and Purple Heart recipients.

We think Congressman Ryan Zinke needs to apologize to the veterans he has insulted for promoting himself over service, voting against issues that would support our fellow veterans and standing by a presidential candidate who would be a disaster for our nation and our overall security (and we’d rather take the word of 50 top national security advisers who have expressed concern about Trump over Ryan Zinke on this).

If Congressman Zinke won’t apologize to the veterans he’s forsaken in pursuit of his own prosperity, he needs to get out of the way so we can elect a leader who will not forget the contributions that Montana’s 100,000 veterans made to this great state and country.

John Hollow (Helena), Captain, USNR-R
Diane Carlson-Evans (Helena), Captain, U.S. Army Nurse Corps
Jim Gillison (Missoula), Lt. Col., U.S. (Retired)

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