Kansas Common Sense
Apr 12 2021
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Hosting the VA Secretary in Kansas
Beginning at the Dwight D. Eisenhower VA Medical Center in Leavenworth
As the lead Republican on Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I hosted VA Secretary Denis McDonough in Kansas for two days last week to meet with veterans and VA leaders across the state. On Thursday morning, we started at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Leavenworth VA Medical Center to tour the facility, visit with patients and employees, and talk with veterans and members of VSOs.
On the tour, we viewed the emergency and surgical areas and walked through the Women’s Health Center. This clinic provides a dedicated space for the fastest-growing group of veterans to schedule and receive care and has also served as a meeting point for women veterans to gather and support one another.
At the conclusion of the tour, we hosted a roundtable where we discussed the delivery of care to veterans by the VA Eastern Kansas Healthcare System as well as some of the challenges facing veterans in rural parts of the state. I emphasized my commitment that veterans have access to quality care and the Secretary committed to looking at new ways the VA can improve billing processes and better provide timely care to veterans in rural areas and those facing mental health challenges.
Thank you to Congressman Jake LaTurner, Kansas Rep. Pat Proctor of Leavenworth, Col. (Ret.) Lynn Rolf Jr. of the Kansas Veterans of Foreign Wars of Leavenworth, Kansas American Legion National Executive Committeeman Dan Wiley of Leavenworth, American Legion Kansas Department Commander Marri Krupco of Blue Mound, Daniel Brazzel of Team Fidelis of Overland Park and County Coordinator Kathy Shepard of Independence for joining the discussion.
It was an honor to join the Secretary for a commemorative coin presentation ceremony recognizing VA medical center staff for their exemplary service during the pandemic. Coins were awarded to CBOC Manager Jackie Garcia, VA Police Officer Derek Ursuy, Amanda Krauss, RN, Kerry McDowell, LPN, and Dr. Courtney Hahn, and I appreciated the opportunity to thank them in person for caring for Kansas veterans. Thank you also to Director Rudy Klopfer for the tour and to Dr. William Patterson, Damian Mcgee and Joseph Burks for their time.
Discussing the SAVE LIVES Act at the Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center
Following Leavenworth, Secretary McDonough accompanied me to Topeka, where we visited the Colmery-O’Neil Topeka VA Medical Center.
During our tour of the facility, we discussed the successful vaccine rollout and learned more about the outpatient care the center provides. Several weeks ago during my visit here, I learned of a reluctance from veterans to be vaccinated through the VA if their spouses were not eligible. Because of this, I introduced legislation – the SAVE LIVES Act – to allow veteran spouses and caregivers to be eligible for vaccines through the VA, and it was quickly signed into law. I’m pleased to announce that over the last two weeks, 18,000 individuals have been vaccinated under the new law, including 1,625 in the VISN 15 Heartland region. I also expressed my gratitude to the Colmery-O’Neil medical staff for their tireless work to care for veterans throughout this pandemic and appreciate that they are setting an example for their communities – 85% of VISN employees are receiving the vaccine. Additionally, we presented recognition coins to the staff that cares for Kansas veterans for their dedicated service during the pandemic: Hilton McLamb, Dane O’Hara, Michelle Ralston, Mindy Mulford and Colon Colbert.
I want to thank Director Rudy Klopfer for the tour and Dr. Thomas Klobucar and Dr. William Patterson for joining us. Thank you also to VAEK’s Associate Director Lisa Curnes, Chief of Staff Dr. Michael Lesson, Assistant Director Alfred J. Mooney, Dr. Stephanie Davis, Dr. TJ McCombs, Heather Jones, Ruby Wood and Joe Burks for their time.
Visiting the Lieutenant General Richard J. Seitz Community Based Outpatient Clinic
After Topeka, Secretary McDonough visited the Lieutenant General Richard J. Seitz Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Junction City, where he learned more about how this clinic is able to coordinate care for women veterans, even in instances where care would need to take place outside of the clinic. Currently, the clinic has been working hard to coordinate mental telehealth services as the pandemic has exacerbated the mental strain many veterans experience as a result of their service. This clinic also helps coordinate the HUD-VASH program for veterans in the area experiencing homelessness, especially homelessness caused by transition issues.
Focusing on Community Care Options for Veterans in Emporia
On Friday morning Secretary McDonough and I stopped by Emporia’s Newman Regional Health Medical Center to meet with staff and patients. Newman has consistently been recognized as one of the most clinically capable facilities in Kansas, and I was pleased to showcase their care and services extend to Lyon, Chase, Coffey, Greenwood, Morris, Osage and Wabaunsee counties to provide top-notch care for much of east-central Kansas.
The medical staff at Newman brought the secretary and me up to speed on how their community hospital has filled in the health care gap since the closure of the VA Eastern Kansas HCS Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC). We also had a chance to discuss the MISSION Act, legislation that allows the VA to establish a more highly integrated health care network, including providing greater access to community care programs and telemedicine services, as well as providing much-needed support to rural community hospitals. During our conversation, Dr. Heitman shared with Secretary McDonough and me the difficulties veterans face in the authorization process as they schedule needed procedures and his desire to care for his veteran patients though these hurdles. Secretary McDonough shared his thanks for providing feedback that will help the veteran community at large.
I want to extend my thanks to Newman CEO Bob Wright, CFO Holly French, COO Julia Pyle, Dr. Bryce Heitman, Supervisor of Care Coordination Lucas Markowitz, Board Trustee Rob Gilligan, Executive Assistant Lynn Redecker and Chief Quality Officer Cathy Pimple for their time. Thanks also to Congressman Tracey Mann, Eastern Kansas VA Director Rudy Klopfer, Eastern Kansas VA Community Care Director Brock Wedman and Kansas Hospital Association Vice President for Reimbursements Tish Hollingsworth for joining us.
Visiting with Veterans at the Dole VAMC Community Living Center
On Friday afternoon, Secretary McDonough and I visited Wichita’s Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center and were pleased to have Congressman Ron Estes join us. I last visited the Dole VA facility just before Christmas as medical staff began to administer Dole VA’s first vaccines to the beginning of what would become many veterans. It was great to see the progress the facility has made in just a few short months as we continue to get back to normal.
During our tour of the facility, we discussed the wait times veterans are experiencing for compensation and pension exams, known as C&P exams, with the Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Office Director Ms. Donna Meyer-Hickel and my efforts to increase the National Personnel Records Center response times to fulfill veteran requests for records related to their service benefits. We also met with union representatives from the American Federation of Government Employees, including President Kip Chappell.
The highlight of the tour was when we visited the Community Living Center and met with veteran residents. They haven’t been able to have visitors throughout the past year due to the pandemic, so we were pleased to spend some time with them. Here, we also were able to present recognition coins to the staff that has cared for Kansas veterans throughout the pandemic: Nikki Lind, Vince Hodgdon, Jacklyn Bantam, Dr. Christopher Fox, Kimberly Gillette, Misty Lester, Curt Rodriguez, Clint Bass and Brandi Tolbert.
Thank you to Dole Director Candace Ifabiyi for leading the tour, and to Dr. Tom Klobucar and Dr. William Patterson for joining us as we heard more from Dole leadership and staff.
Continuing the Legacy of Aviation Excellence at Wichita State University
On Thursday afternoon, I was honored to attend the dedication of the Wichita State University’s (WSU) newest National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) lab, the Jerry Moran Center for Advanced Virtual Engineering and Testing. The new facility located in WSU’s innovation campus houses crash dynamics, virtual engineering, virtual flight testing and building blocks laboratory programs where students will learn and research.
I have worked closely with WSU’s NIAR Executive Director Dr. John Tomblin to bring federal officials and business leaders to campus so that they can recognize the amazing resources, faculty and students at WSU. Once leaders get on the campus, the university sells itself. Ultimately, WSU and its students are changing the world and preserving Wichita as the Air Capital of the World. While I was there, I was also pleased to announce a new grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program for $2 million that will go toward the study of a neutrino-detecting mission concept, or tools to better understand the inside of stars.
Thank you to the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) for this honor and Dr. Tomblin for his exceptional leadership of NIAR and his continued partnership as we work to grow WSU, Wichita, our state and our nation. I also want to thank interim President of WSU Richard Muma, KBOR Regent Jon Rolph and Spirit AeroSystems CEO Tom Gentile for their kind remarks during the ceremony. I also appreciated the attendance of KBOR President Blake Flanders and Regents Helen Van Etten and Mark Hutton. I extend my thanks to everyone who took time out of their day to attend the event.
Breaking Ground on the SEK Impact Center
In February, I announced a $2.6 million CARES Act Recovery grant to Neosho Memorial Regional Medical Center (NMRMC) from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to fund a new Southeast Kansas Impact Center for Wellness, Education, and Business.
On Tuesday, I was pleased to join them as they broke ground on this project that will impact the community well into the future. Thank you to the individuals involved in this grant and for their initiative in undertaking this project that will have a big regional impact. The new facility will include conference space for the community, as well as a clinic and telehealth facility.
This event brought the community together, and I appreciated the remarks from NMRMC CEO Dennis Franks, NMRMC Foundation President Phil Jarred, Chanute Mayor Jacob LaRue, Neosho County Commission Chair Nic Galemore and Lt. Governor David Toland. Thank you to NMRMC for the invitation and their staff for all they do to care for their fellow Kansans.
Stopping in Fort Scott for Labconco’s Vaccination Event
While in southeast Kansas on Tuesday, I visited Labconco Corporation, a company that manufacturers laboratory equipment in Fort Scott, as the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHCSEK) administered the second vaccine dose to their employees. It was helpful to hear both from Labconco about their operation during the pandemic to produce lab hoods to help with COVID-19 testing, as well as receive an update from the CHCSEK about their successful vaccination clinics for local businesses and the general public.
Thank you to Labconco CEO Laura McConnell Perin and CHCSEK Director of Development Dawn McNay for helping coordinate my visit, as well as City Manager Jeremy Frazier and City Commissioners Kevin Allen and Dr. Randy Nichols for joining us. And thank you to the staff of the CHCSEK, including Lori Rexwhinkle, Kimberly Whitaker, Jeannie Napier and Stephanie Potter, for the update and all the work they are doing to get more vaccine shots in the arms of Kansans.
Thanking Health Care Workers at Pittsburg’s Hospital
I also visited Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg to thank their health care workers for all they have done during the pandemic. They choose to care for others every day and truly make a difference in the Pittsburg and southeastern Kansas community. I also had the opportunity to speak with several Pitt State Nursing students and thank them for choosing a profession where they put others first.
While at the Hospital I met with CEO Drew Talbott, Chief Nursing Officer Tawny Sandifer and ER Department Chief and Crawford County Health Officer Dr. Tim Stebbins to discuss their partnerships with the Community Healthcare Center of Southeast Kansas to serve surrounding rural areas. Access to health care is important for rural areas, and I appreciate their leadership in working towards a financially viable model to provide care to Kansans. Read more here.
Congratulating Joseph Lee on Admission to the U.S. Naval Academy
It was an honor to congratulate Joseph Lee on his acceptance into the U.S. Naval Academy while in Pittsburg. We are fortunate to have intelligent, hard-working, humble and patriotic students like Joseph in our country who are willing to serve at the highest level in our Armed Forces. I was pleased to nominate Joseph, and I know that the Pittsburg community and all of Kansas is very proud of you!
Read more about Joseph here in the Pittsburg Morning Sun by clicking here.
Visiting Miller’s Professional Imaging
I also stopped by Miller’s Professional Imaging in Pittsburg to learn more about their operation as one of the largest photography printing labs in the country. The tour, led by David Doria, highlighted how they have expanded and adapted over the years to offer more services in the digital market and how they increased their production efficiency during the pandemic. I enjoyed viewing all the different printing options they offer and learning about their digital consumer base through their MPIX platform.
Also on the tour was Richard Miller – the owner of Miller’s – President Todd Coleman and Joe Dellasega. I appreciated hearing about their programs to support and incentivize employees, as well as their philanthropic efforts around the Pittsburg community. Hometown businesses are invested in their community and often play a large part in its wellbeing. I appreciated hearing about Miller’s impact from local Chamber of Commerce President Blake Benson and Deputy City Manager Jay Byers.
Speaking to Manhattan’s Military Relation Committee
On Wednesday, I spoke to the Manhattan Military Relations Committee, an entity of the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce, to give a federal update about efforts to support the military community. With the close proximity of Fort Riley, cities like Manhattan and Junction City play an important role in making our military feel welcome, supporting Big Red One soldiers, as well as helping to retain brigades.
I was able to report that because of new legislation signed into law last year, Big Red One soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice during Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn will now have their names added to the First Division Monument located on White House grounds.
I also discussed my work on the SAVE LIVES Act, which now allows veteran spouses and caregivers to be vaccinated through the Veterans Health Administration, and our efforts to address veteran mental health and suicide prevention.
Special thanks to Janet Nichols for the invitation, as well as Lt. Gen. Perry Wiggins, the Governor’s Military Council Executive Director, for his keynote. Read more here in the Manhattan Mercury.
Meeting with Kansas Community Colleges
I was pleased to join the Kansas Community College Council of Presidents for their quarterly meeting this week. During the meeting we discussed ways to improve workforce development, the importance of Pell grants in providing educational opportunities to low-income individuals, protecting student veterans from reductions in GI Bill benefits as a result of COVID-19 and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. I sincerely value the insight that each of our state’s community college presidents offer and appreciated hearing from them on issues facing their institutions. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, I look forward to continuing working closely with our Kansas community colleges to make certain their efforts to provide quality higher education are supported at the federal level.
Discussing Kansas City Southern’s Recent Merger
On Monday, I met with Kansas City Southern’s President Pat Ottensmeyer and Executive Vice President Administration & Corporate Affairs Warren Erdman regarding their recent merger with the Canadian Pacific Railway. Once combined, they will create the first rail network linking the U.S., Mexico and Canada, which will help support Kansas exports with improved efficiency and reduced transit times. I appreciated the update and thank them both for the meeting.
Visiting with Paul DeBruce of the DeBruce Foundation
This week, I visited with Paul DeBruce, founder of the DeBruce Foundation and former president of DeBruce Grain, Inc. The DeBruce Foundation, located in Kansas City, helps individuals expand their pathways to economic growth and opportunity and changes the way they pursue their careers. The foundation’s mission looks to widen peoples’ understandings of what makes a successful professional career and helps open up new career possibilities and opportunities through their initiatives and strategic partnerships. The company’s initiative to help these individuals secure success is valuable, especially as they look to enter the workforce or begin a new career path. I appreciated the ability to hear all that this foundation does to serve its community. Thank you to Mr. DeBruce for meeting with me.
Meeting with McCownGordon Construction
I also met with the leadership team at McCownGordon Construction this week. I appreciated learning more about how their employee stock ownership plan, allowing their company to be 100% employee owned and how their early adaptation of drone technology has benefited their company. Thank you to CEO Ramin Cherafat, Chief People Officer Nancy Whitworth, Vice President Todd Knight and Director Pat Contreras for the helpful meeting.
Recognizing Gold Star Spouses Day
On Gold Star Spouses Day on Monday, we paused to honor the men and women who have lost a spouse or loved one who died while defending our country. Military service is family service, and we recognize their sacrifice and their resilience.
Recognizing Holocaust Remembrance Day
Thursday was Holocaust Remembrance Day or Yom Hashoah, a day on which humanity reflects on the atrocities of the Holocaust and remembers the lives of the six million Jews who perished. The undying courage of all victims and survivors must never be forgotten.
Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Thank you to the many Kansans who have been calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the issues our state and country face. I appreciate the words of Kansans, whether in the form of a form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard.
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