As we come up on the Fourth of July weekend, and we reflect on what it means to be American, I am honored to join the Walla Walla community for a big step forward in fulfilling the promise we make to those who serve our country.
Wednesday is the official groundbreaking of the Walla Walla State Veterans Home, the result of more than a decade of dedicated, tireless effort by so many.
From day one, I was humbled by the dedication and support of the people of Walla Walla and the surrounding communities.
You all believe the same thing I do — our veterans deserve the care and support this home will offer, and we owed it to them to get this done. Together, we fought for an amazing turnaround.
In 2004, the Veterans Affairs put the entire VA hospital on the chopping block, which would have forced veterans to go to Spokane or Seattle for care.
But because community members spoke up by writing to their elected officials, attended committee hearings I chaired, and joined me in countless meetings making their voices heard, we not only saved the facility from closure, we helped prove that it was worth expanding.
That community effort helped me get the VA to agree with all of us and preserve the facility, take it off the closure list and instead invest millions of dollars in the campus and create new facilities for veterans to get services.
It armed me to go to the other Washington to fight for $23 million in federal investments for the brand new state veterans home last year.
And now, I am proud to be in Walla Walla on Wednesday to join your celebration to expand the facilities and support for veterans in Southwest Washington.
Because of all of this investment and expansion, the 80-bed long-term care facility we break ground on today will be just the latest improvement to the care and services available for the almost 50,000 veterans in the region.
Helping veterans in Walla Walla and across our state isn’t just another issue to me, it’s personal.
My father was a World War II veteran. He didn’t talk about his service — but it was a big part of who he was.
And when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I saw firsthand what it meant to have a government that didn’t just say ‘tough luck’ but came through with the support and care its veterans deserved.
I saw this again when I worked as an intern in college at the Seattle VA, and saw veterans with terrible, and often invisible, wounds of war.
These experiences ingrained in me the idea that I have carried with me ever since: those we ask so much of, and who sacrifice so much for us, deserve more than just our thanks when they come home — they deserve the best possible care.
That is why I fight every day to make sure our country is fulfilling the promise we make to our service members and veterans.
I’ve worked to pass legislation to improve job opportunities for veterans, expand access to housing for homeless veterans — including homeless veterans with families, and to improve health care and the coordination of care for service members transitioning from the military to the VA — but the work is far from over.
And it is why I am so thankful for the outstanding group of dedicated people here in Walla Walla with whom I was proud to work to take the first big step in opening this state veterans home. It’s communities like this that inspire me to keep doing my job the best I can — people who show us how we should be caring for each other and making our communities, and our country, a better place.
I consider one of the most important parts of my job to be listening to the people I represent in Washington state and fighting for your priorities in Washington, D.C. So I truly appreciate all of the work done by the Walla Walla community to share your stories, make your voices heard and work together to make this day a reality.
Walla Walla fights for its veterans — and I am proud to have your back.
Have a happy and safe Fourth of July weekend.