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Sen. Johnny Isakson

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, hosted Academy Day at Dobbins Air Reserve Base Saturday, an event where young people interested in joining one of the nation’s five military academies can meet with representatives and learn more about the application process.

After he spoke to the prospective cadets and their families, Isakson, who chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, sat down with the MDJ and shared his thoughts on some issues facing the military and the nation.

Q: What does the Korean peace accord mean for the U.S. military and service members?

A: “It’s the highest compliment our military can get to be deployed for 70 years, to have fought and lost troops for a number of years at the beginning of the Korean War, to have stood guard hand-in-hand with the South Koreans against the North Koreans and come to a point where we’re signing at a peace table. A war ended yesterday on the dissolving of the old war declarations of both countries, and now we’re getting ready to talk about peace for the future. That is the ultimate reward. Every soldier will tell you they’re ready to do whatever it takes on the battlefield, but every time they can do it with peace through strength, that’s how they want to do it, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Q: Are you optimistic the peace will last?

A: “Absolutely. Look at Japan, look at Germany. We bombed them to smithereens at the end of World War II, we fought to the death with both of them, now we’ve rebuilt both of them, and now they’re two of our biggest allies. America is the greatest nation on the face of this Earth, we send our sons and daughters into harm’s way, sacrifice their lives for other people, when we leave those countries, all we ask for is a couple of acres of ground to bury our dead. That’s a great nation, and we’re grateful to our military.”

Q: How much credit does the Trump administration deserve?

A: “They would be the first to tell you it’s a lot of shared credit. There have been steps along the way that made a lot of difference, beginning with Eisenhower, going all through Kennedy and Nixon, all through the Johnson years and more recent years. President Trump deserves an awful lot of credit because he is a great negotiator, I’ll tell you. I’ve read his book, I was in the same business he’s in, real estate, although he did a whole lot better than I did, unfortunately. He knows how to tee it up, he knows how to negotiate, he knows when to hold ’em, and he knows when to fold ’em. That’s a song, by the way.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the allegations against Dr. Ronny Jackson, who recently withdrew his nomination for VA secretary?

“I think Dr. Jackson got a real raw deal by a lot of stuff leaking out that may or may not have been true, and I’m sorry we didn’t get to the hearing to be able to vet those and find out what really was true or not. Nobody deserves to be barbecued without a chance to defend themselves, the way that was mounted against him, it became a very difficult situation. I think he probably did the right thing for himself and his family. I regret it happened that way, but it did. I’m proud of the way the committee handled it, because the committee members on my side, the Republicans, did not get engaged, did not try to play sides, we asked for the White House to respond to the allegations and were ready to move forward in the committee meetings and then he decided to withdraw for reasons I don’t know first-hand, so I’m not going to get into.”

Q: What needs to be done to address veteran suicide and opioid addiction?

“Easy accessibility and quick accessibility to mental health professionals are critically important, and the three new crisis centers we put into the country and the help lines we put in are doing a great job. Now people are getting an answer rather than an answering machine on the help line, stuff like that. They’re getting access to good information in a timely fashion. We’re contracting in the big population centers to have mental health professionals on call 24/7.”

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“The problem is addiction. Addiction is a disease. A lot of people stigmatize a drug addict for being weak, whatever it might be. Addiction is a powerful disease, and it has a powerful effect on the individual. We have got to do what the opioid bill we passed in the Senate last week, in the committee, passed out to the floor vote, we’ve got to incentivize the pharmaceutical industry and the health professionals around the country to find substitutes for pain management that don’t include opioid-based. The minute we do that and stop prescribing them at all is the day we begin to curb opioids being used as addictive substance people get their hands on. In the meantime, education, you just don’t ever start. I use myself as an example. I lost my grandson in 2016, and I had back surgery in 2017. I refused to have any pain killer that’s opioid based and then used Tylenol. It worked fine. It hurt, it didn’t hurt bad, and it worked fine. We just need to get out of the opioid business, that stuff’s bad.”

Q: Speaking of which, how is your health?

“I’m feeling great. I’m old, but I’m feeling great. I’m old, but I’m not dead.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the governor’s race?

“I’m in Washington all the time, and I know we’ve got some good candidates running, the lieutenant governor, the secretary of state, military retirees, people like that. A lot of qualified people. We’re a good state, we’ve got a lot of good candidates. I’m sure we’ll pick a good one.”

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