A Long Time Coming

Dear Friend,

As many of you know, my approach to this job is guided by my belief that I work for you. It’s why I enjoy traveling across our region to listen to your ideas and thoughts and bring them back to Congress. That way, we can build progress together.

Another key part of that is helping you, your family, or your business get the service you deserve from government. I’m proud of the extraordinary casework my office does on a daily basis. I encourage anyone who is grappling with a federal agency (whether the IRS, the VA, the Social Security Administration, or any other agency) to contact my office. We can help you get the answer you need or get access to the service or benefits you deserve.

In fact, if you visit my website you’ll notice a running tally of the money we’ve saved folks and the number of people who have contacted us. It’s one of the most important things my office does. Given that so many veterans call our region home, sometimes we also get to help men and women who served on our behalf get the proper recognition for their sacrifices.

Nearly 50 Years Later

That was the case last week when I joined with the Undersecretary of the Army, Patrick Murphy, at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Veterans of Foreign Wars post to honor Sgt. Edward Dvorak. During the Vietnam War, Sgt. Dvorak led a team that ended up confronting a much larger enemy force on November 30, 1968.

After taking shrapnel to his shoulder and chest, Sgt. Dvorak did not back down. He ran to an M-60 machine gun to protect the men under his command until they made it safely out in helicopters, only then did he take treatment for his wounds.

However, Sgt. Dvorak never received the appropriate recognition he rightfully earned for his bravery that day. My office was happy to submit the proper paperwork to the Defense Department to try to right that wrong. During the course of the Department’s review, they decided to reward Ed with the Silver Star.

It was an honor to play a small part helping Sgt. Dvorak and joining his family and fellow veterans to officially award the Silver Star. You can see highlights of the ceremony here, courtesy of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis McChord.

Helping Rural Veterans

There are many different ways to make sure we have the backs of the men and women who serve. In our region, many veterans live in smaller towns and communities, far from the nearest VA facility. For them, a simple visit to their doctor can be difficult as they face long distances to travel (often coupled with traffic challenges).

We can do better. That’s why I’ve partnered with Senator Jon Tester of Montana to call on the VA to look into bolstering a Nurse Call Center for veterans in rural areas where we’ve seen a shortage of VA medical professionals.

This would follow the model created by the TRICARE Nurse Advice Line. Already, the hotline has helped many folks get clinical recommendations from nurses over the phone rather than visit an emergency room. That saves time and money for the veterans while keeping them healthier. Together, we are asking for a pilot directed at serving rural veterans, so they have another option for talking to an experienced medial professional without hopping into their car.

This could be an innovative way to promote the well-being of veterans. We are going to keep at the VA to get this project underway. You can read our letter here.

A Crisis that Needs to be Heard

Our region is home to many tribes whose ties to the land go back centuries. I’m proud to partner with them to ensure their rights as sovereign nations are respected. Tribal communities are also a critical part of our local economy – helping to create jobs, protect our environment, and help our country grow. But too many tribes across the nation aren’t getting the investments they need to thrive.  

Many reservations face significant challenges in health care, education, natural resource protection, and economic opportunity. You won’t see much about it in Facebook feeds, when you turn on the tv, or read the news but it’s a problem.

So to shine a brighter spotlight on the challenges we face I called on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to update a 2003 report looking at this called ‘the Quiet Crisis.’ I also joined with local tribal leaders in calling on the Chairman of the Commission on Civil Rights, Martin Castro, to hear from members in person about what needs to be done.

At a special listening session in Taholah recently, Commission Chairman Martin Castro answered our call. He saw up close what folks face in our neck of the woods. I’m glad the commission is moving forward with the report and also to help hold sessions like this one where the voices of people directly impacted are heard.

Stay tuned for future developments on this front.


100th Anniversary of National Parks

Since my last newsletter, there is a birthday to celebrate! The National Park Service just turned 100 years old!  As Franklin Roosevelt noted, “There’s nothing so American as our national parks…The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that our country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making the enrichment of the lives of all of us.”

In our region, places like Olympic National Park are iconic locations where folks can take in the great outdoors. It is also a driver of our local economy, creating positive opportunities for local small businesses and workers. Like every other park, it tells a unique story about the lands that make up our nation.

Plus, the park gives us stunning photos like this one:

The Kilmers even took some time out over the Labor Day weekend and did some hiking on Rainier.  We saw a ton of marmots and even made it up to the snow. It was a terrific hike (though I’m definitely feeling it this morning).

We’re celebrating now, but there is work to be done. That’s why I cosponsored the National Park Service Centennial Act which creates a challenge fund to support key projects through public-private partnerships to enhance the National Park System. It’s important that the Park Service is able to deploy rangers and maintain trails to ensure that the park experience is a special one for everyone!

Looking Ahead

Finally, this week Congress will be coming back into session. It’s going to be a sprint to the end of the month. If Congress fails to pass a spending bill by the end of the month, we could see another ridiculous government shutdown. As a member of the Appropriations Committee I’ve long discussed with you the consequences of Congress’s short-term approach to the budget.

By continually getting into fiscal fights, Congress has failed to make the investments that will help our nation succeed in the long run. Congress still doesn’t have a budget. That means we don’t have adequate responses to situations like the Flint water problem or the Zika outbreak.

Let’s look at Zika as an example. Right now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported more than 2,700 infections in the continental United States. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health are working hard to develop a vaccine but have also taken funding away from other critical health priorities in order to do so.

That’s because they don’t have a stable budget to work with because Congress has failed to act. It’s time to bring some stability to this process so whether we are talking about helping to create jobs or keep people safe, your government can get it done.

District Stops

I was honored to speak to a gymnasium full of Peninsula School District teachers and staff as part of their Partners in Learning school year kick-off event. As the son of two public school teachers, I understand the importance of educating and providing for the holistic growth of our kids. The room was energetic and full of hope for the upcoming year under new Superintendent Rob Manahan, and I was proud to be a part of kicking off the 2016-2017 school year! A special thanks to the delegation from Artondale Elementary, who have the challenge of reining in the Kilmer brood for another year!

I had a wonderful visit with Skookum at their NBK Bangor Galley to meet some of their staff and discuss the work they are doing. Thanks for having me and giving me a tour of your work site!

I also had the great opportunity to visit one of Brian Beaulaurier’s McDonald’s restaurants in Port Orchard. They are at the forefront of piloting a new program called Archways to Opportunity, which provides their employees the chance to complete high school diplomas and work toward college degrees, among other benefits. The stores owned and ran by the Beaulaurier family are also actively engaged in the communities that they operate, which happen to be almost completely in the district I represent!

As always, I’m grateful for the honor of representing you. Please reach out if I can ever lend a hand.

Derek Kilmer