Senator Murkowski E-Newsletter for the week of June 20, 2014

Greetings, Alaska!

Hello from Washington, D.C., where summer is in full swing and it’s awfully hot and humid. It was truly a breath of fresh air to be home in Alaska last weekend.  I hope you are enjoying a beautiful Alaskan summer full of hiking, fishing, camping, biking, and all of the activities that make this season in our state so special!

Delivering on the Promise to our Veterans

Alaska embraces our veteran community and cares for them – which is why the recent revelations about ‘secret waiting lists’ and management within the VA have made us reassess how best to make sure that America follows through on the promises we make to our military to provide healthcare.  This week, I sent a letter to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Inspector General, pressing them to expedite an inquiry into two matters related to the Alaska VA Healthcare System. I am committed to making sure the Veterans Administration delivers the highest quality care.

Now more than ever, an effort needs to be made to restore the confidence of both veterans and the American public.  Last week, I cast my vote in favor of a bipartisan solution for our men and women who served – and it passed 93-3.  This bill will allow for veterans to seek care outside of the VA if they have experienced long wait times or excessive commutes to VA facilities. Although the bill has a lot of positives, it doesn’t get Alaska all the way to where we need to be. I am concerned that although the bill addresses some existing problems, it could create new hassles for Alaska’s veterans seeking access to health care.  I am going to make my case with my Senate colleagues and the Administration, and I am hopeful that as the bill moves to a House-Senate conference committee, my concerns will be addressed.

It was great to meet our honored veterans from WWII who participated in the Last Frontier Honor Flight last month.

Alaskan Concerns over Student Loan Bill

As a parent of both a college student and a recent graduate, I am extremely concerned with the rising cost of higher education and the overwhelming amount of debt that burdens graduates. The Senate recently considered a proposal by Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren – but it could have damaged the way Alaska finances our student loans.  Shortly after I voted to get on the bill to debate the issue, I shared my concerns with Alaska about the ways it could harm Alaska’s financing program.  I am committed to working with my colleagues to address this issue.

(Click image to watch my statement on student loans.)


Summer Interns 2014

Speaking of young Alaskans who are headed to college, my interns have arrived and really hit the ground running. These hard-working students are getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the Senate works.

A big welcome to my college intern coordinators Kendall Eilo and Benjamin Gilman and high school interns Lyndsey Brollini, Nicole Eldred, and McKenzie Stepovich of Anchorage, Diedre Creed of Kotzebue, Emily Hartley of Talkeetna, Austin Ramsay of Ketchikan, Alfonso Sitenga of Homer, Michaela Spaulding of Fairbanks, Rachel Tougas of Seward, and Maria Villa of North Pole. I remember my days as an intern for Senator Ted Stevens; what a great experience!


Getting to know my new interns.

Funding Alaska’s Priorities

I was pleased that my colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science worked with me to include provisions that are critical to our state into the 2015 funding bill, such as:

  • boosting Arctic navigation,
  • supporting additional funding for marine debris clearings,
  • implementing electronic monitoring for Alaska’s fishing vessels, and
  • prohibiting federal agencies from using outside groups to certify the sustainability of Alaska’s fish.

Click here for more information on how this bill will benefit Alaska.

Fighting for our Fisheries

The Sustainable Seafood Seminar was held last week on Capitol Hill, with participants from federal and state agencies, as well as representatives from the commercial seafood industry.  They invited me to give the keynote address, and I pledged to continue my support for strong federal funding for fisheries management.

I take both professional and personal interest in our fisheries, since both of my sons work in the industry.  I also emphasized my commitment to protect the seafood industry from threats posed by genetically-engineered salmon and third-party sustainable seafood certification schemes. 

(Click the image to watch my remarks to the Sustainable Seafood Seminar.)

(I also recently addressed the “Our Ocean” Summit to tout Alaska’s fisheries. Click to watch my remarks.)

Remembering Alaska’s Involvement in WWII

Last weekend, America remembered the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a lasting national memory from World War II.  However, we in Alaska know that WWII hit us harder than most.  Our state recently remembered the 72 years since Japanese bombers aimed at the Aleutian Islands, killed 25 servicemen and made Alaska the only American soil to be occupied by enemy forces in the 20th century. I salute the sacrifices that past and present military members and their families have made.

(Click to watch my message for the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.)

 Healthy Children Today, Lower Costs Tomorrow

Many Alaskans are concerned with the rising statistics about obesity, particularly in our children.  Though it’s often discussed as a nutrition and physical activity issue, it also has enormous economic impacts on our nation’s future since bad eating habits become health care costs later in life.

Last week, the Campaign to End Obesity thanked me for my efforts in advancing legislation that leads to healthier children not only for their quality of life in the days to come, but also pre-empting many avoidable medical concerns later in life.

Out and About in Alaska

While up in Alaska I attended the Dena’ina Potlatch and Pow-wow in Eklutna. This bi-annual event coincided with the opening of the National Conference of American Indians in Anchorage, where American Indians from around the country gathered. 

Presenting the flag to Lee Stephan, President of the Native Village of Eklutna.

Doing the “Iceberg Bump” dance with the St. Lawrence Dancers.

Enjoying the Great Outdoors

Verne and I enjoyed a soggy but beautiful hike out to Saddlebag Lake in Cordova.  A little drizzle won’t stop us (or any another Alaskans) from getting outside and enjoying all the activities our wonderful state has to offer.

Saddlebag Lake, Cordova.