Newly appointed U.S. Veterans Administration Secretary Robert McDonald visited Missoula on Tuesday, accompanied by Montana Senator Jon Tester.

At a press conference in the University Center on the UM campus, McDonald said his visit to Montana is primarily concerned with helping veterans in more rural areas.

"We want to serve the rural veteran, especially in a fast-growing area like Montana, " McDonald said. "We have over 1,400 employees here in Montana to serve veterans, and day to day they do a great job, and we're doing everything we can to make their job easier."

McDonald announced a new initiative that the Veterans Administration had just launched to help homeless veterans.

"We announced $93 million dollars in VA grants to help solve veterans homelessness, with a program we call SSVF, or Supportive Services for Veterans Families Program," he said. "Today, I'm proud to announce that $6 million of that is coming here to Montana, to an organization called Volunteers of America. Last year, Volunteers of America transitioned 73 clients through its program into stable housing this fiscal year."

Following the press conference, Tester and McDonald met with student veterans for a listening session.

photo by Peter Christian

As he was leaving the press conference, McDonald paused to greet two four-legged veterans and their handlers, all of whom are veterans. The two black labs, one a Marine, one an Army veteran, were used to sweep the room for explosives before the senator's visit.

Senator Jon Tester and VA Secretary Robert McDonald