Gluesenkamp Perez in The Chronicle: “Our Veterans Served Us. It’s Time We Served Them.”

Apr 22, 2024
Press

Over the weekend, Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (WA-03) published the following op-ed about her work on behalf of Southwest Washington veterans in The Chronicle:

“By answering the call to serve our country and protect freedom and democracy, our nation’s veterans put their lives on the line.

In today’s world, choosing service and sacrifice to put community ahead of self-interest is incredibly countercultural. Each time I’ve spoken with veterans across Southwest Washington, they’ve exemplified this selflessness and courage.

The nature of their sacrifice means we can never fully repay it, but it’s our government’s sacred obligation to try its damndest. Getting veterans the high-quality care they’ve earned to live healthy lives after returning home should be one of Congress’s highest priorities. 

Unfortunately, many of our 62,000 Southwest Washington veterans and their families aren’t experiencing that reality.

More than two and a half years ago, VA Puget Sound closed its clinic in Chehalis to cut costs, leaving a void from Olympia to Vancouver for the 3,400 heroes it served.

Making it to the nearest clinic can be a full day of travel for rural veterans in East Lewis County — or just impossible for those who have difficulty traveling or live on a fixed income. In many cases, telehealth appointments aren’t a realistic replacement for seeing a doctor in person, especially if you have limited broadband access in a rural community.

Veterans have also told me they’ve faced hours-long hold times to simply schedule an appointment over the phone — it’s unacceptable.

A VA Mobile Medical Unit (MMU) began visiting Chehalis after the clinic closed — and when I visited, providers told me they share these concerns and wish they could be more available to fill these gaps in care. 

But, with eight appointments weekly and effectively no walk-ins, the MMU just isn’t a substitute for a full VA clinic.

In Skamania County, where I live, rural veterans recently lost eligibility for critical federal grant funding for transportation to VA medical appointments — all because the VA is using outdated measures of rurality to determine which regions are eligible. 

This transportation service has put lifesaving care into reach for folks since 2014, and it made roughly 300 trips in 2022 alone. I was furious when I learned community leaders were given minimal notice from the VA to find alternative solutions or sources of funding.

It seems our veterans paid the price for freedom, yet our government won’t pay the price to uphold its promise to them.

I’m working to change that — and honor Southwest Washington veterans through action. They’ve had enough empty promises.

I’ve spoken with many of you, holding 11 in-person Town Halls across each of our counties, and I’ve taken to heart what I’ve heard. Your experiences are critical to informing my work on bipartisan solutions.

As a first step forward for veterans in Lewis County, I urged the VA to provide additional county-level data regarding gaps in care. When the agency was unable to produce it, I delivered a petition to their door with two years of signatures from more than 16,650 veterans, loved ones, and caregivers, along with my own letter calling on the VA to immediately reopen a clinic in Lewis County.

To address the lapse in federal funding in Skamania County, I introduced the bipartisan Rural Veterans Transportation to Care Act, which would help more rural veterans access transportation to their medical appointments.

My bill will restore this critical funding for Skamania County — and also make rural veterans newly eligible in Lewis, Clark, Cowlitz, Pacific, Thurston and Wahkiakum Counties.

I also co-led the bipartisan VET MEDS Act to support veterans’ access to VA-certified specialists and examiners in rural communities, and it was signed into law as part of a Senate package in October.

When Congress was working to fund our government, I fought to ensure the VA was fully funded. So, when the Majority tried to ram through a hyper-partisan VA funding bill that reduced funding for our veterans in July with no chance of becoming law, I refused to take the bait. I worked for a stronger, bipartisan deal for our veterans. Lo and behold, we recently got a bipartisan bill signed into law with $7.8 billion more for the VA than the prior proposal and $4 billion more than fiscal year 2023 funding levels.

To me, serving our community is about working across the aisle to get stuff done and tuning out the noise of clickbait politics and culture wars. Our commitment to veterans should rise above party, so I’ve been laser focused on bipartisan legislation that can make it through a divided Congress.

It takes our whole community to support veterans when they return home. That’s why I introduced bipartisan bills to make it easier for experienced veterans to become certified paramedics and EMTs, support veteran families’ access to peer support and mental health care, and ensure service-disabled veteran-owned businesses have a fair shot accessing government contracts, which unanimously passed the Small Business Committee.

While legislation can move at a glacial pace in Congress, I’ll keep building bipartisan support to get these bills over the finish line. My bipartisan team can also do a lot to cut through bureaucracy to directly help you access the benefits you’ve earned.

We’ve already returned $1.7 million to constituents owed to them by federal agencies – $153,000 of which was from the VA. I also held my first-ever Veterans Career and Resource Fair to help bring opportunities directly to our community.

Over 3,100 brave men and women in Southwest Washington have already filed claims for toxic exposure under the PACT Act, and we can help you navigate that process as well. So, if you or a loved one need assistance — or you don’t think you’re getting the quality of care or benefits you’re owed — we are here to help.

Please spread the word and feel welcome to contact my office by calling 360-695-6292, filling out my online form at gluesenkampperez.house.gov or visiting my offices in Kelso or Vancouver. I also want to be as accessible as possible — so to stay updated on what I’m working on, you can sign up for my newsletter on my website or follow me on social media at @RepMGP. And look out for my team holding mobile office hours in a community near you.

Without our veterans’ service, we wouldn’t have the rights, freedoms and opportunities we enjoy today, so I’ll keep working to honor their sacrifice in Congress.”

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