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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Zinke, Daines: Replacing Montana VA Director Should Be Top Priority

Fort Harrison VA facility in Helena, MT
Fort Harrison VA facility in Helena, MT

The Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation have requested a meeting with Veterans Administration Secretary Robert McDonald in the wake of the director of the Montana VA announcing his resignation, effective July 8.

John Ginnity has been running Montana’s VA health operations at Ft. Harrison in Helena since June of 2014, initially as acting director before being named permanent director in March of 2015.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester says he spoke personally with VA Secretary McDonald about Ginitty’s resignation on Tuesday.

"He assured me that he will work hard and fast to get us a director quickly, because quite frankly this is really important for the veterans, it’s really important for the Montana VA," Tester said.

In a joint letter to VA Secretary McDonald yesterday, Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Ryan Zinke, both Republicans, said, "The failure of the VA to prioritize the hiring of these leadership positions with honorable individuals reflects a systemic failure of the VA to prioritize the welfare of veterans as a whole."

They, and Senator Tester, all noted that Ginnity’s departure will leave the top three positions at Montana’s VA health system either vacant or filled by acting leaders.

"And that’s kinda crazy, but it really does tell me that we have to give the flexibility to the VA to go out and actively recruit these folks and be competitive with the private sector."

Senator Tester has introduced a bill that he says would allow the VA to offer state directors more competitive salaries.

Some critics of the VA have said a major problem is that it’s too hard for the agency to remove ineffective leaders and replace them with better ones. Senator Tester said Secretary McDonald has replaced “a good portion” of VA leadership since being appointed two years ago. I asked him to evaluate John Ginnity’s leadership in Montana.

"He hasn’t been there that long, frankly. I can’t say whether Johnny did a great job or a bad job while he was there. I do know there’s a couple investigations going on, but I’m told that his resignation had nothing to do with those investigations, but the bottom line is, with any part of government we need to hold leaders accountable."

Senator Daines and Congressman Zinke’s letter says they refuse to allow Montana to become another in a series of upsetting stories about the VA, and they urge the VA secretary to make replacing John Ginnity a top priority.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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