VA bill earns unanimous Senate passage

Unanimous huckleberries to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, to celebrate this week’s unanimous Senate passage of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. Tester, a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was a lead sponsor of the legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs’ process for reviewing complaints about VA employees. The bill is meant to allow the VA more freedom to fire those who perform poorly, while also providing for more protection for those who call attention to problems and better training for VA leadership. In these increasingly partisan times, it’s encouraging to see bipartisan agreement on anything. U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, also signed on as one of 39 co-sponsors. The act now goes to the U.S. House, where it should receive similar strong approval.

Hot, dry chokecherries to those Montana farmers and ranchers who still don’t understand the human influence over climate change. A recent survey of 424 farmers and ranchers in Montana conducted by Climate Research Assessment in Montana and the Northern Great Plains showed that nearly 84 percent of those who responded agreed that climate change is a problem. Given Montana’s steadily growing drought, shrinking glaciers and intensifying wildfire season, it’s a wonder that number isn’t higher. But even more confounding is the 43 percent of survey respondents who said they do not believe climate change is caused by humans, despite the mountain of conclusive scientific evidence.

Huckleberry paint to Willard High School artists for beautifying the route along the Bitterroot Spur Trail. Once a popular spot for graffiti artists and litter bugs, the Elite One Nutritional Services building is being treated to a mural makeover, with a blooming array of native species sketched and painted by Willard students under the direction of Missoula artist Stephanie Frostad and art teacher Gwen Hoppe. The ongoing art piece, started in 2014, is nearing completion simply because students have run out of room. Fortunately, Hoppe is already looking for their next blank canvas.

Chokecherry hazards to Montana’s abysmal ranking as the seventh-worst state in the nation for safety. The personal finance website WalletHub crunched the numbers, and determined that Montana comes in 44th place due to its relative rankings on a number of different safety measures, including murders (19th place), assaults (36th place), losses from environmental disasters (45th), vehicle fatalities (49th) and other indicators.

Humanitarian huckleberries to Mary Poole, who recently received the Missoula’s Peacemaker Award from the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center and Missoula Peace Quilters for her work with Soft Landing Missoula. The new nonprofit helped establish an international office to bring refugees to Missoula, and has continued to help integrate new arrivals into the community, with housing, jobs and fun events. In fact, Soft Landing is organizing a soccer tournament to celebrate the addition of more than 25 refugee families in the past year. The tournament will take place at Fort Missoula Regional Park on June 17, with kids’ games and activities offered as well, followed by dinner and music. For more information or to register for the tournament, visit