State Senator Derek Kilmer, a Democrat and 6th Congressional District candidate, along with Major General Timothy Lowenberg, the recently retired Adjutant General of Washington and chair of a group called Veterans for Kilmer, held a roundtable discussion at the Bremerton VFW on Monday morning.
Nine people showed up to talk with Kilmer and the general about issues specifically affecting veterans.
John Barelli, a Gig Harbor resident and former Navy counselor, who later said he knew Kilmer from attending the same church, spoke about various frustrations in dealing with the Veterans Administration.
“If you’ve ever tried to call the Veterans Administration, you will pull your hair out,” he said. “You never get to talk to a person. You get to call and then you punch a few buttons and maybe they’ll get back to you.”
Barelli also spoke highly of the men and the women at the VA, but cited a bureaucratic nightmare that makes it difficult for them to do their jobs and serve veterans effectively.
“The people are there to do it and, frankly, the money is there for taking care of veterans,” Barelli said. “Getting the member and the care connected seems to be the disconnect.”
Bremerton residents Mike and Diane Arnold also spoke about the challenges of getting quality healthcare for veterans. Mr. Arnold shared a story about having to get a couple of teeth pulled and needing some bridge work.
“The problem is that you come into the system and everybody comes in at the same time, but when you go to your next visit, you go 30 to 45 days out,” Arnold said. “So, they don’t get to work with you on a consistent basis. In other words, you have teeth pulled and the ones you have left are moving around, so that when they do an impression and you come back 45 days later, it doesn’t fit.”
Kilmer said that, if elected, he will work with constituents in overcoming roadblocks like those described by Arnold and Barelli while also working on system-wide improvements.
Lowenberg spoke about recent successes in the National Guard and the importance of getting soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, along with their families, into the system sooner.
“It’s quite often a family member who is more keenly aware of those symptoms,” he said.
Lowenberg also said that, moving forward, there is room for improvement.
“There are best practices and there are lessons that can be learned and applied on a broader scale,” he said. “The successful engagements and programs should not be one-offs and they don’t have to be.”
Lowenberg also spoke about Kilmer’s success as a state senator in helping veterans and their families.
“One of the reasons I was so happy and proud to support Derek was to watch we he did as a key member of military and veterans joint committee in the house and senate,” he said. “With leadership from Derek and others, that committee really helped focus the Legislature on the fact that the military presence in Washington state is a huge economic engine -- all of the services, all of the installations.”
Lowenberg noted that it’s not just the jobs on the bases themselves, but the small businesses that work with and around them to contribute to the local and regional economy.
Economic development was a theme that Kilmer expanded upon when talking about the possibility of across-the-board cuts in military spending, or what is called sequestration.
“I’m very conscious that the naval presence in Kitsap County is directly and indirectly tied to about 54 percent of employment and it has enormous ramifications,” he said. “The good news is our parochial interest also fits our national interest. As the focus moves toward Asia, from a national security standpoint, we are well positioned.”
Kilmer also cited his work in the Legislature establishing a new engineering program at Olympic College.
“Part of that is to provide opportunities to our young people, but part of it is we heard from the shipyard that one of their biggest concerns was that they were having to look outside the state for engineers,” he said. “You know, the average engineer at the shipyard is over 50 years old.”
Kilmer said the new engineering program at OC will create a new pipeline to the shipyard and opportunities for local young so that, “our top export isn’t going to be our kids.”
Kilmer also trumpeted legislation he worked on to streamline business licensing for veterans and their family members moving to Washington state and laws to crack down on discrimination against veterans in housing and hiring. He also said that addressing homelessness among veterans should be a national mission.
“Every veteran should have a home and it shouldn’t be under a freeway overpass,” Kilmer said.