11.12.19

Honoring Our Veterans and Visiting Our Troops

Hello Friends -

Yesterday, our nation paused to honor our veterans. Veterans Day is an important time to acknowledge our family, friends, and loved ones who have selflessly sacrificed for this country. It is on this day that we honor those who wore the uniform and their families.

I was proud to join hundreds of people in Silverdale at the Kitsap County Veterans Day Ceremony yesterday to say thank you to our veterans and to the community that supports them - and to recommit to ensuring that every veteran receives the benefits they have earned and deserve.

Image

Image

Image

This year, Congress has been working to do right by our veterans by passing 24 bipartisan bills out of the House that would improve care for veterans, strengthen mental health and suicide prevention, and invest in the services our veterans have earned. Read on for details!

Supporting Our Veterans

Providing Help to Vietnam Veterans

Over the years, I’ve talked to far too many veterans who are dealing with the impacts of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. Sadly, some of those veterans - those who served on ships off the coast of Vietnam (known as “Blue Water” Navy veterans) - have not qualified for disability benefits related to this exposure. In my view, if you serve our country, we should have your back. That means if you’ve developed a medical condition related to your service, you should be eligible for care.

That’s why this year, I was proud to co-sponsor and vote in favor of a new law to extend disability benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans. After decades, this new law will ensure that sailors, Marines, and others who served off the coast will get the same disability compensation benefits as ground troops.

Under this new law, veterans with diseases related to Agent Orange exposure are eligible to apply or re-apply (if they’ve been previously denied) for disability benefits. Veterans have deserved this for a long time, and I’m proud to have played a part in doing right by them.

For any veterans seeking more information about whether they may be eligible, please don’t hesitate to contact my office or a Veterans Service Officer, call VA’s toll-free number at 800-827-1000, or visit the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Blue Water Navy Agent Orange website.

Putting an End to Veterans Suicide

It is estimated that more than 20 veterans die by suicide every day in our country. From 2007 to 2017, the rate of suicide among veterans jumped almost 50 percent, with veterans 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than Americans who never served in the military. That is not acceptable.

I’ve had my oar in the water to help address this crisis. A few years ago, we were able to extend VA mental health assistance to those who had received an “other than honorable” discharge. More recently, in this year’s VA funding bill, I helped secure $222 million for suicide prevention outreach to combat the growing challenges of veterans’ suicide, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other mental health challenges.

In addition, Congress has passed bills this year to help veterans in need including:

  • The Whole Veteran Act, which would ensure all necessary tools are available to veterans for their individual mental health needs. The bill would identify current gaps in the VA and make reforms so the VA can better meet the mental health needs of veterans everywhere.
  • The Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act, which require an assessment of the VA’s mental health and suicide prevention agreements with other government and non-governmental entities. Since roughly half of veteran suicides involve a veteran that is not attached to the VA, it’s important to look outside the system too. 
  • The FIGHT Veteran Suicides Act, which would address the troubling increase of veterans dying by suicide on VA campuses.

Suicide is a complex issue with a number of contributing factors, and there’s plenty of work to do. But the federal government can and should find new solutions and opportunities to improve the health and well-being of our veterans. They deserve nothing less.  

If you, or a veteran you know, is in crisis, visit https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/, text 838255, or call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

Improving the Quality of Care Within the VA

As a Member of the House Appropriations Committee, I get to help craft the legislation that provides federal funding for the VA in hopes of delivering better and more reliable care to our veterans. This year, I secured several provisions in the VA funding bill that will help to improve the quality of care administered by the VA. A couple of examples:

Too often, veterans find that their medical records from their time in service fails to transfer into the VA system. That can place a burden on veterans and on their caregivers. With that in mind, I secured additional funding for the development of an interoperable electronic health record system that will enable the seamless access of the medical records of veterans in the VA system, the Department of Defense (DOD), and of community providers. I also fought for a provision focused on improving health outcomes and patient experiences for veterans with complex medical conditions. I was proud to see these measures pass the House in June! 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has done some excellent work identifying shortcomings within the VA and potential improvements that could ensure veterans get the care they’ve earned. Unfortunately, too many of those GAO recommendations have been ignored.  With that in mind, I worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to introduce the Accountability for Quality VA Healthcare Act which would require the VA to implement some of the highest-priority recommendations identified by the GAO. Among other things, the bill would require the VA to:

  • Create a pilot project to bolster security at Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities.
  • Evaluate VA facilities to ensure they align with veterans’ current needs.
  • Identify and adopt best practices related to the opening of new outpatient clinics.
  • Ensure VA medical facilities have necessary medical supplies and equipment for women veterans.
  • Revamp the VHA’s scheduling department to bring down wait times.
  • Ensure the VA is hiring and retaining qualified nurses.

Each of these is a common-sense recommendation based on a finding from the GAO. I’m proud that five Democrats and five Republicans came together to craft this legislation and am hopeful that it will move forward in the House.

Honoring a Local Veteran

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to introduce a bill, co-sponsored by the entire Washington congressional delegation, to rename the Bremerton Post Office to honor John Henry Turpin, a distinguished U.S. Navy sailor who is believed to be the first African-American to qualify as a Master Diver and one of the first African-Americans to achieve the rank of Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy.

Turpin’s outstanding legacy of service to our country is made even more significant by the era of prejudice and discrimination during which he served. And yet, Turpin repeatedly answered the call of duty to his country, served with great distinction, and rose in rank throughout his Navy career. His thirty-year career in the U.S. Navy included service during the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, and World War I. And his life-long and selfless commitment to the defense of America, American values, and the American way of life is worthy of our recognition and praise.

Helping Veterans Grappling with the VA

Some of the most important work that my office does is focused on helping constituents who are grappling with the VA or other federal agencies. We’ve helped dozens of veterans get the care, benefits, and recognition that they’ve earned. For example, we assisted with the paperwork of Edward Dvorak who was awarded the Silver Star decades after his service in Vietnam. You can read about that here

If you or someone you know needs a hand, please contact Rob Richards, a terrific Navy veteran who works in our Tacoma office. You can reach him at 253-272-3515.

Visiting Our Troops

The best moment of my last week came during a visit I took to the Middle East. I had the opportunity to visit with American troops stationed in Iraq, including proud Washingtonians from the Washington National Guard. I visited with servicemembers from the 156th Information Operations Battalion, 56th Theater Information Operations Group and 122nd Public Affairs Operations Center about their operations and how their deployment is going in the Middle East.

They make us proud every single day. I was honored to have the opportunity to thank these soldiers for their sacrifice and for their service to our nation.

Image

Image

Image

In addition to visiting with our servicemembers and State Department professionals, our delegation met with government leaders in several countries. In Turkey, we discussed the recent House vote to sanction Turkey for their actions against the Kurds in Northern Syria and the importance of protecting religious minorities. In Baghdad, we met with the Prime Minister, the President, and the Speaker to discuss the continued efforts to combat terrorism. In Erbil, we met with Kurdish leaders to affirm America’s commitment to the Kurds. In the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, we discussed the ongoing fight against ISIS and the humanitarian crisis facing millions of refugees in the Middle East.  

I could spend an entire newsletter detailing our trip, but let me just give some quick takeaways.  It’s an undeniably challenging time in that part of the world. The United States has played and can continue to play an important role in promoting peace, stability, and the safety of the American people. And our discussions affirmed to me the importance of ensuring that American foreign policy is strategic and reliable. As a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I’ll keep working toward those ends.

Ok, that’s it for now folks. As always, I’m honored to represent you.

Sincerely,

Derek