BILLINGS -- U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke told veterans Tuesday to be wary of becoming overly dependent on government services and to help each other rise up.
Speaking to a small group of veterans in Billings, Zinke said as a veteran he worries about the “economic slavery” of government services and spoke specifically about the Veterans Administration.
He said veterans who need care for problems like post-traumatic stress disorder need therapy and more. They need to be working toward obtaining jobs, he said, and should be required to accomplish both.
Zinke called the issue a taboo subject in Congress, where lawmakers fear saying anything critical of veterans. He said the discussion needs to happen nonetheless.
“This is where being a veteran matters,” Zinke said, “because no one cares more about veterans than I do. I want to make sure veterans get everything they need. I want to make sure they get everything they need to be productive members of society.
“And there’s a difference between the economic slavery of being trapped in poverty and moving into being part of the community that we need the veterans to be a part of.”
Zinke called on veterans to help each other advance.
The message was well received by a small audience of veterans gathered with Zinke in a conference room of Connect Telephone and Computer Group in Billings.
“We’re not victims,” said veteran George Blackard. “I think that, yeah, there are people that game the system and that give us all a bad name. But I do think we need to hold each other accountable. We’re all part of a big team.”
Veterans at the meeting raised concerns about the delivery of veterans' health care, namely because of understaffing issues. There are more than 150 employee vacancies in the Montana system, according to a Billings Veterans Clinic representative at the meeting.