POULSBO — Derek Kilmer represents Washington’s 6th Congressional District, an area that covers Kitsap, Mason, Jefferson, Clallam and Grays Harbor counties. On April 2, U.S. Rep. Kilmer stopped by the North Kitsap Herald’s office in Poulsbo to talk about current issues and some of the projects he’s working on at the nation’s capital.
Fresh from a groundbreaking event for a new Veterans Affairs clinic in Silverdale earlier that day, vets weren’t far from Kilmer’s mind during his visit.
“Getting that done is a really big deal for veterans here in Kitsap County,” Kilmer said of the groundbreaking. “I have personally been very active in pushing the VA to get moving because it’s been far too long in coming.”
The congressman couldn’t say whether the recent changes at the VA would bode well for the department’s cohesiveness in the future.
“I think it remains to be seen what’s going to happen with the VA leadership,” he said, referencing President Trump’s recent replacement of David Shulkin as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “I think we had actually started to see some progress out of Secretary Shulkin with some of the reforms that were being implemented. We’ll see what happens with the new leadership.”
Last year, Kilmer authored the “VA Management Alignment Act” — passed by the House of Representatives in November 2017 — requiring the VA to submit a report clearly defining roles, responsibilities and accountability for VA officials.
“The meat and potatoes of that bill,” Kilmer said, was included in the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed on March 23, which will keep the government funded until the end of September. Kilmer also said he worked to add language to the bill that would make it easier for vets to get a home loan through the VA.
While on the subject of veterans, Kilmer took a moment to talk about some of the “casework” his office handles.
“We have people on staff that just try to help make government work better for people,” he said. “It’s really cool stuff.”
Kilmer relayed the story of a veteran who reached out to his office in hopes of finally receiving his Purple Heart.
“He was on a mission in Laos and according to the federal government, we were never in Laos,” Kilmer said. “We got his mission declassified and probably the coolest day I’ve had in this job was getting to pin a Purple Heart to that guy’s chest.”
Kilmer encouraged anyone dealing with issues associated with any federal agency to reach out to his office for help. “If they have a family, friend, neighbor, coworker, whatever, I encourage them to reach out to our office because we can’t solve problems we don’t know about. It’s just one of the most important resources our office provides.”
The representative was also one of the three original co-sponsors of the “Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence Act of 2018,” also known as the “STOP School Violence Act.” The bill passed the House on March 14, one month after a deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The bill includes the provision of a federal grant program to help provide school districts with violence prevention measures like metal detectors, mental health services and emergency notification and response technologies. While the bill seeks to prevent school shootings, the only mention of firearms in the text comes at the end in the form of an explicit prohibition of any amount of the grant money being used to provide firearms or firearms training.
“It doesn’t do everything that Congress needs to do on the issue of gun violence but it does do some important things,” Kilmer said.
“There are other bills that deal with gun violence and with what I think are common-sense steps that Congress can take to keep people safe and keep our kids safe without impeding on someone’s Second Amendment rights. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t moved those bills. They’re bills that I support.
“Our state has moved forward on things like universal background checks because the vast majority of people I meet — Democrats and Republicans, the vast majority of gun owners I meet — embrace the notion that if you are a felon or have a dangerous mental illness, you shouldn’t be able to get your hands on a gun.
“There are common-sense steps we can take. People are genuinely concerned about the safety of their kids and yet Congress — for too long — has responded by doing nothing,” Kilmer said.
During his visit, Kilmer also said he believed that there was a much more insidious threat to the public than gun violence.
“The thing that I’m concerned about that doesn’t come up as much as I would expect it to, is cybersecurity … In relation to the threat that it is, I would expect it to come up more,” Kilmer said.
In September 2017, Kilmer introduced the “Major General Tim Lowenberg National Guard Cyber Defenders Act,” a bill that seeks to create within the National Guard a contingent of cyber civil support teams, which would protect and respond to threats or attacks against computer, electronic or cyber networks.
“We worked on it with input from our National Guard here in Washington state, which has actually been one of the leaders in the country. You’ve got men and women who spend their day at Microsoft or Amazon and then serve in the Guard, and they have amazing expertise. That’s the type of thing that could be replicated around the country to improve our cyber resilience, both to prevent a cyber attack and to respond to it — particularly if there is an attack on our critical infrastructure, everything from our utilities to our voting systems.
“While there [are] threats to large marble buildings in Washington D.C., a lot of the threat plays out on the ground in our communities,” Kilmer added.
“When I first got to Congress, we had a group that went out to the Pentagon and met with the military leadership, the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense. … I asked the Secretary of Defense, ‘What’s keeping you up at night?’ And without missing a beat he said, ‘cybersecurity.’ He said, ‘I’m worried that we’re going to have a cyber 9/11 and we’re not ready for it.’”
— Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org