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Jesse Ramos

Ward 4 City Councilor Jesse Ramos

One thing we can all agree on in today’s divisive political climate is that the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system is broken. We have great doctors, nurses and staff who serve in the VA but the system itself needs major reform.

A broken system means that the men and women who served and risked their lives to protect our freedoms and liberties are being denied their basic right to life and happiness that should be afforded to all Americans, by being asked to wait months to receive medical care from the government they sacrificed to defend. If we continue with the delay-and-deny system, some of our veterans will die waiting for health care.

I want our veterans to have the freedom to use the benefits they earned serving in the military in the private sector, as opposed to waiting months for care from the bureaucratically bogged-down government entity known as the VA. To many of us, this would seem like a relatively simple bipartisan decision but unfortunately, once again, politics is taking precedence over our great veterans.

It is clear that many of the politicians fighting so fiercely against VA choice are those who have received large campaign contributions and political support from the unions that represent, not our veterans, but the hundreds of thousands of employees who work for the VA. If the VA was working the way it was intended to and veterans were not suffering, there would be no issue. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where the bureaucracy is fighting against the interests of the people it was created to represent in a battle for its own self-preservation.

We rely on our government officials to balance the interests of those represented by an agency with the workers who allow the agency to function. I am proud to work with numerous veterans' organizations in Montana to promote and advance the freedom our troops fought for. This is the sacred obligation of civilians who have been served honorably by our nation's finest.

The VA Mission Act would establish permanent, streamlined veterans' community care programs to provide veterans with access to health care and services in their own communities. Under this legislation, a veteran and his or her doctor will decide where that veteran will receive care, taking into consideration the veterans' healthcare needs and the availability and quality of both VA and community care. The American Legion, VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), DAV (Disabled American Veterans), VVA (Vietnam Veterans of America), Concerned Veterans for America and AmVets all support the Mission Act. It is time to act and deliver this bill to President Trump.

Competition is the great equalizer in any free-market society. When the VA has no competition in the private sector, it has no reason to improve the services it provides. If you don’t like your doctor as a private citizen, you can go to a different doctor using your healthcare benefits. Our veterans, sadly, do not have that choice and thus the VA has no incentive to improve. Allowing our veterans the opportunity to seek care in the private sector forces the VA to improve or ultimately become irrelevant; fight or flight.

This doesn’t mean privatization of the VA. It means greater freedom and choice for veterans. By allowing the free market to function, we will be installing a quality check on our healthcare system.

Montana has the highest veterans' suicide rate in the entire country and we need drastic change to help the struggling veterans and their families. I encourage U.S. Congressman Greg Gianforte, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester to support the Mission Act.

Jesse L. Ramos represents Ward 4 on Missoula's city council. 

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