Hello, Alaska! Summer is in full swing, which means I'm home in Alaska for the full month of August. I will be traveling all over the state, from the Southeast to the Interior, and am looking forward to connecting with many of you and hearing your stories and concerns about what is going on in Washington, D.C.
But in the meantime, I wanted to update you on the latest
America is an Arctic Nation
Time and time again, I have pressed our government to take our future in the Arctic seriously. This is why I was pleased when Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr. -- former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard -- was named the United States' first Special Representative to the Arctic. I recommended Admiral Papp to Secretary of State John Kerry for this position, because he understands the Arctic and the challenges we face. I was also pleased that Fran Ulmer has agreed to be special counsel to assist on Arctic issues. Her vast understanding of all things Arctic will be an important asset as the U.S. prepares to assume the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year.
Last week, it was great to see Admiral Papp walk into my office as one of his first official acts as Special Representative to the Arctic. He and I talked about the path ahead and his priorities. Here are a few of our thoughts.
Alaskans Will Not "Get Over" King Cove
When Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell told me on December 23 that she was rejecting a lifesaving road for the people of King Cove, I informed her that I would not back down from my efforts to help the people I represent. She promised that she would work to find solutions. Throughout the past 7 months she has failed to keep this commitment. I have sent yet another letter to Secretary Jewell asking her to prioritize her response to all correspondence related to King Cove, provide a summary of steps the Interior Department has taken to improve medical transportation in the region, and visit the community to explain, in person, her decision to those affected by her rejection of this life-saving road. This is not an issue that Alaskans should "just get over" as the Secretary has suggested.
Delivering for our Veterans
Last week I cast my vote in favor of the Veterans Access to Care Act, a critical first step in reforming the Veterans' Administration. The VA's mission is a promise to the men and women who put their lives on the line around the world for our defense, and it's a simple promise that we will look after them in their times of medical need. Red tape and systemic failures cannot stand between our veterans and the care they have earned.
I voted for this bill because it represents a critical beginning to reforming the VA, but it is only a first step. No amendments were considered that would help this bill better suit Alaska's needs, which remain unique in the nationwide VA system. I am also concerned that the solutions contained in the bill's fine print could create new gaps in health care delivery or more difficult obstacles to care. It is encouraging, though, that the bill improves the accountability within the system -- and that if a caregiver or employee falls short of doing their job adequately, they can be removed from their position with greater expediency.
In Alaska, we continue to fall short of that promise of care, be it the staffing shortage in Wasilla or the bureaucracy in Anchorage. When I sat down with a roomful of veterans earlier this month who shared their problems with the VA, their belief in the VA's mission remained resolute. And it is that core mission we must always keep in the front of our minds moving forward.
10,000th Book Donation to Alaska!
Education is a priority of mine but even more so is instilling a love of learning in our young people -- and reading is the gateway to both of those. I am proud to announce that through a partnership with the Library of Congress, over 10,000 books have been donated to various schools, libraries, tribes, and non-profit agencies throughout Alaska. The 10,000th book was "Aesop's Fables" and it was donated to the Chester Creek Elementary Library in honor of longtime librarian Beverley Fonnesbeck. If you know of a classroom, school, early childhood education program, library, or literacy program that is in need of books, please submit a form by clicking here.
It is a troubling fact that our men and women who serve in the U.S. military are 60% more likely than the civilian community to develop the fatal, muscle-wasting diseases known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or "Lou Gehrig's disease"). I believe we owe it to our armed services to do what we can to find out more about this troubling statistic, which is why I worked to secure funding to research ALS's prevalence in the military. The Senate Appropriations Committee allocated $7.5 million to the Peer Reviewed Medical Program to fund research into causes, treatments, and therapies of ALS.
The Alaska Report: Starring My Second Session Summer Interns
My second session summer interns are getting ready to head home and pack up for college. Last week I sat down with them to tape an edition of the Alaska Report, answering some questions they had for me. These bright young Alaskans asked about some important issues--I encourage you to take a look.
Quality Time With Alaskans:
(One of Alaska's newest growth industries? Peonies! It was nice to meet with Alaska Perfect Peony's Rita Jo Schoultz when she came through D.C.)
(In Anchorage last weekend, they let me help judge the Alaska Public Radio "BBQ Salmon Cook-off with Shane Moore of Spenard Roadhouse and BBQ expert Steven Raichlan. YUM!)
(I've never had Alaskans visit me quite the way the Wilcox family from Sitka did -- the father and son team ran over 3,000 miles cross-country to raise awareness in the fight against GMO-free food. We had a great conservation about why genetically engineered fish ("Frankenfish") should not be approved by the FDA.)