I talk a lot in my updates to you about what makes our region special. For example, recently I wrote about an amazing hike we took in the Olympic National Park to honor the Park Service Centennial. Or the sites of downtown Tacoma – museums and theaters that have made the City of Destiny a City of Destinations!
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard is certainly one of those assets. The Shipyard recently celebrated 125 years of maintaining our nation’s Naval power and providing quality jobs.
Because of the shipyard we’ve had a large Naval presence in our region going back decades. The men and women who serve in the Navy are our friends, family, and neighbors. They help make our community more vibrant while protecting our freedoms. They deserve to be celebrated and I try and do that every day I’m on the job.
That makes visits from officials like Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus particularly special. I was honored to join him in Bremerton as he stopped by for one last time in his official role. Secretary Mabus noted the remarkable dedication our region in helping our nation maintain its security.
I was also honored when Secretary Mabus asked me to join him on stage to present me with the Distinguished Public Service Award, the highest award the secretary can give to a civilian not employed by the Navy. It was humbling to accept something like that. I am proud to work on behalf of our servicemembers, the DOD civilians who support them, and our veterans. While I’m honored by the recognition, frankly I accepted this award on behalf of our amazing community who step up to support these men and women every day. I look forward to continuing to be their partner.
Another Special Guest
Secretary Mabus wasn’t the only special guest we welcomed to our neck of the woods since my last newsletter. I also joined some of my colleagues like Puget Sound Recovery Caucus co-founder Rep. Denny Heck and Governor Jay Inslee in welcoming the Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Christy Goldfuss, to give a special announcement about Puget Sound. We all know that Puget Sound is central to our region’s identity, history, and culture. It helps attract visitors to our area, support critical habitats you won’t find elsewhere and powers our economy.
But we also know that underneath the beautiful surface, Puget Sound is a challenged body of water. We are struggling to maintain habitat and water quality in this iconic body. In order to keep its place as a landmark body of water and healthy for future generations the time for action is now. That’s why it’s great news that Director Goldfuss announced a new Puget Sound Federal Task Force that will focus on better coordinating recovery efforts among federal and state agencies, tribes, and local leaders. The development of a task force and the signing of a “Memorandum of Understanding” may not sound like a big deal – but it is. It means that we’ve gotten the federal government’s various agencies all committed to being at the table and all working off the same playbook so we can more effectively protect and restore our Sound.
Director Goldfuss also joined local leaders for an interesting conversation about how the outdoor economy is supporting new entrepreneurs and creating quality jobs every single day. I was psyched to be joined by local leaders like Travis Campbell from Far Bank Enterprises in Kitsap County.
A New Approach
Another group proving that teamwork yields great results is the Olympic Forest Collaborative. Over the past year we have crisscrossed the Peninsula and held a number of public meetings to describe our work. Communities on the Peninsula are intricately tied to the health and well-being of our forests. Healthy forests help keep our waters clean and provide habitat for all kinds of amazing wildlife. Our forests have also provided an important source of timber that supports our mills, decent middle-class jobs, and the local economy.
For those of you who don’t know, when I first came to office I decided to sit down with a number of folks who were often at odds in this arena. From environmental groups to timber industry folks we spent countless hours figuring out where we might be able to find common ground and move past old debates.
It turned out that both sides agree that there are some areas where we can responsibly increase our harvest in a way that would benefit the health of our forests and the economic health of local communities. We noticed that collaborations in other parts of the country had built consensus around specific projects and outcomes to make it easier for these projects to become a reality.
Last year folks in our region officially launched their own “forest collaborative.” I’ve participated in five public meetings the group held to get input from local citizens, and the collaborative has moved two pilot projects out the door. While tough issues remain to be dealt with I’m proud of the progress folks have made by joining together and look forward to what the future has in store!
A final invitation
It's a real honor for me to have the opportunity to nominate young people from our region to attend the nation’s service academies. Not only do students get a top notch education, they learn the skills to serve our country as an officer in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Merchant Marine, or Coast Guard. If you or someone you know is interested in applying for this exciting opportunity, please consider attending my Academy Night on November 2nd at the Bremerton School District Administration Building from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Folks will be on hand to discuss the application process and benefits of attending a service academy. Additional information can be found on my website, and applications are due November 18th.http://go.usa.gov/xKtyB
Bringing Needed Reforms to Veteran Care
As the member of Congress for our region I represent more veterans than just about any other member. It’s important that we take care of the men and women that have sacrificed so much on our behalf. That’s why all of us were shocked when stories about manipulated wait times and mismanagement at the Veterans Health Administration surfaced.
When it happened I sat down with local veterans who explained the struggles they dealt with. It was clear we needed to make changes fast. Congress made some progress and passed legislation to shore up the VHA system. But it was also clear that some systemic changes were needed. I wanted to make sure we have the right processes in place to ensure the system is working effectively for its patients.
It’s why I introduced a bill calling for the Government Accountability Office to initiate a comprehensive review of the VHA. After following up with a letter, the GAO agreed to do it.
Now, the first of several reports is seeing the light of day. This will allow us to move forward with increased oversight and improved direction to get veterans the care they deserve.
The GAO found that, after a number of internal and external reviews in which the VHA received a list of recommendations to make the system better, nothing happened. Sadly, these recommendations were left on the cutting room floor and never implemented. That’s not fair to veterans, the staff that conducted the reviews, nor the taxpayers who paid for them.
There is one other major problem the GAO report uncovered. Currently, the VHA is divided up into Veterans Integrated Service Networks. Each one oversees VA facilities and personnel for a cluster of states. After all the problems, it was decided to drop down the number of VISNs from 21 to 18. But the GAO uncovered that the VHA central offices did not create a blueprint for this massive realignment.
Instead, they told each one to move forward on their own. This was the approach taken when it came to creating appointment systems as well. And we all know what happened there. This has created a number of headaches such as officials trying to figure out how to incorporate new facilities of varying sizes into their budget without any central direction.
This isn’t right and we need to do something about it. This GAO report gives Congress a roadmap for improved oversight. And hopefully it will finally push the VHA to start measuring actual outcomes and put into detail the improvements they need to make to better care for their patients. I think it’s a good way to right the ship. Stay tuned for legislative developments on this front.
Increasing Access to Education
Another important group of folks that doesn’t get nearly the attention they deserve are those running the GEAR UP program. Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, commonly referred to as GEAR UP, is a US Department of Education grant program that increases the number of low-income students preparing for post-secondary education.
In a meeting I had with a group of the GEAR UP families in Kitsap County, we discussed how this program’s partnerships in our local communities provide opportunities for young people to succeed. As the son of two educators, I appreciate the importance of these connections and collaborations!
I had the opportunity to participate in the opening of the new Emergency & Specialty Services building at Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend. The new facility continues the great work the staff, the hospital commission and the entire community have accomplished in bringing first rate health care to Jefferson County.
I was pleased to join hundreds of business and civic leaders at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber's Annual Meeting. The theme of the meeting was "Eliminating Barriers, Building Bridges," which is an ethic that we could use a lot more of in Washington D.C. these days.
Thank you to the Kitsap County YWCA for hosting a Community Conversation on Domestic Violence. It's important that our communities and our nation continue to have these conversations on the best ways to not only provide the necessary services to survivors but to prevent violence from occurring in the first place. I appreciate the work that the YWCA does across our communities. Please continue to consider me a partner as we work against violence.
I had a chance to be at the opening of the Mary Bridge Adolescent Behavioral Health Facility at Tacoma General. Wow! I was really impressed with how bright and cheery the rooms are. But most importantly, this is going to meet an enormous need for our community and give hope to a lot of families. Thanks to Mary Bridge and all involved for their leadership.
As always, it’s an honor to represent you!