Request for Major Disaster Declaration

Dear Mr. President:

January 4, 2019

We write to urge your immediate consideration of Governor Michael Dunleavy’s request for a Major Disaster declaration under Section 401 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, to support Alaska’s recovery from a severe earthquake and its thousands of aftershocks. The impact on Alaskan families, homes, businesses, schools and infrastructure is extensive and federal assistance is essential to help our constituents recover in the wake of this destructive event and mitigate against future catastrophes.

On November 30, 2018, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake located seven miles north of Anchorage produced widespread destruction and severe damage to major highways and important public roads, bridges, and rail infrastructure; widespread power, water, and communication disruption; structural collapse and resulting fires to several buildings; and severe damage to private homes, personal property, and businesses.

Since that time Alaskans have been rattled by thousands of aftershocks, the first of which followed the main earthquake by minutes; the most recent of which, registering at 4.3, occurred on January 2, 2019.

Alaskans are resilient. Nowhere was this more evident than in the actions of our state and local emergency management teams and first responder and public works personnel in the hours after the earthquake. Working day and night to ensure that our communities were safe and that utilities, services and major infrastructure were operational as soon as possible, these public servants were instrumental in mitigating the immediate impact of the earthquake on Alaskans.

However, there is much more that needs to be done. Governor Dunleavy indicated in his request that the damage was of such severity and scale that additional federal assistance is necessary to supplement the actions of our State agencies. Though the spring thaw may provide a more comprehensive understanding of the extent of the damage, it is crucial that Alaska has the resources necessary to continue the process of rebuilding.

It is also important to remember that the earthquake affected more than infrastructure; it affected and continues to affect Alaska’s people. Some Alaskans lost their homes, while others discover with each aftershock that the impact to the structural integrity of their homes is more severe. Many lost personal property. The psychological impact of persistent aftershocks has increased the demand for behavioral health services. Damage to some commercial properties, like the high rise Westmark Hotel in downtown Anchorage, has displaced workers who are now in need of disaster unemployment benefits. The Small Business Administration is awaiting a decision on whether a Major Disaster will be declared before it opens up disaster recovery loans to small businesses.

We are grateful for the prompt attention you and members of your cabinet have provided to the state in the immediate aftermath or the earthquake – including the issuance of an emergency declaration. Subsequently, we hope that you approve Governor Dunleavy’s request with immediacy given the scope of the damage and overall impact on our constituents. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Senator
Dan Sullivan, U.S. Senator
Don Young, Congressman

Veterans health care should not become part of a profit-making business

Military Veterans Beware! I am writing to let your readers know there is serious discussion by the current administration in Washington D.C. to privatize the Veterans Administration’s Health Services and place the welfare of America’s veterans in the hands of corporate magnates like the Koch Brothers and other profit driven entrepreneurs.

This is an urgent matter for all Alaskan Veterans and non-Veterans alike. Whether you use the VA or not, it is there for most veterans if ever needed.

Right now, new rules are being drafted which will govern how veterans can access taxpayer funded medical care in their community under the new Mission Act. These rules are set to take effect in June of this year. This legislation was passed to get veterans more access to care, which is great, but the Mission Act provides cover for moving veterans care outside of the VA and into the private sector, where profit not the welfare of patients is the great motivator.

What is at stake is the future care for millions of Americans who served our nation. For some veterans that service brought with it emotional and or physical scars they will carry with them the rest of their lives. For some of these veterans, the scars are obvious, lost limbs, or severe physical disabilities. Others suffer from toxic wounds after they were poisoned with Agent Orange or pesticides. Younger Vets have suffered from severe brain injuries in recent wars. And of course, there are emotional scars and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Our Veterans need the best care available and that is from the Veterans Administration Healthcare Services. Veterans know the best place for them to get care is the VA. The VA is the only place that offers treatment that is specifically designed for veterans, and where the doctors, nurses and other care givers are trained to look for service related illnesses, such a toxic wounds and PTSD. Study after study shows that care in the VA is equal to or superior to care in the private sector. Read the following article for more information.  ( In addition, it costs less to treat a veteran in the VA than it does in the private sector, in part because there is no effort to make a profit. There is no profit incentive when one works for the Federal Government on a salary.

Right now, the unions, including National Nurses United and American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) are fighting the privatization effort. The current administration is trying to silence that opposition and has come after the unions, by stalling contract negotiations, issuing executive orders designed to gut the unions and wash away worker’s protections that have been in place for decades.

We must do all we can to stop this effort. Your fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, siblings, relatives and friends joined the United States Armed Forces to serve proudly. Our physical and mental health benefits should not be sold to the lowest bidder.

In August of this year two organizations, the American Legion with thousands of members and the Veterans For Peace (VFP) took a stand against private enterprise wresting the care of our veterans from the Federal Government.

VFP is now distributing bumper stickers throughout the country, writing op-eds in countrywide newspapers like this newspaper and speaking out on radio and television shows throughout the nation.

I have used the VA for many years having sustained injuries and illness while on active duty. I am proud to be one of three veterans, who held banners at the Anchorage VA facility and on the Parks Highway to decry the privatization of the VA.

If you agree that Veterans health care should not become part of a profit-making business, please contact Congressman Young and Senators Murkowski and Sullivan and tell them how you feel about privatization of VA health care. Go to meetings held by local Veterans Administration leadership and voice your concerns. If you would like bumper stickers or banners against privatization of the VA health care system, contact me.

John Spitzberg, US Army 1958-63, USAF 1963-72
PO Box 471
Willow, Alaska 99688
(828) 230-6902

Partial Government Shutdown and Border Security

Today (Jan. 9th, 2019), U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spoke on camera to Alaskans about the partial government shutdown, and the broader issue of border security and how it relates to the shutdown.

Hello Alaska and Happy 2019 to everybody. I hope you have a great holiday season. I certainly did with my wife and daughters in Anchorage and in Fairbanks as well.

Today I want to spend a few minutes talking about the partial federal government shutdown and on the broader debate we’re having here in D.C. on the issue of border security and how it relates to that shutdown.

First, I want to make it very clear: I support the president in his efforts and in his Administration’s efforts to secure our border.

This is something that every nation does to protect its sovereignty and in my view is not something that should be viewed as very controversial—securing the border of your nation. Over the past 25 years every president of the United States, Democrats and Republicans, has attempted to secure our Southern border. They’ve all said they would. Even this Congress over many years has said we should.

This Administration is trying to keep the promise made by the President to do just that. And I support that.

The goal is for a functional immigration system that secures our border, enforces the law and importantly keeps families together.

We don’t have that now. I agree with the president, and the Customs and Border Protection commissioner, who has called the situation on the southern border a security crisis, but importantly, also a humanitarian crisis.

Two issues that I’m particularly concerned about and have focused on as your Senator and I know that most Alaskans are most concerned about are actually related to the porous border down south. And that is human trafficking—evil people who are leading children from different parts of America and different parts of South America and Mexico into lives of hell—and also the drug and opioid crisis that’s decimating communities across our country and that is threatening many Alaska communities and families as well.

Both of these issues are tied to a porous southern border.

Most people who come to this country we all believe are good people coming in good faith. But not all of them are.

It’s a fact that drug smugglers, and human traffickers are exploiting our border with Mexico.

And it’s also a fact that strong borders work.

Of the southern border’s 1,950 miles, a physical barrier today protects about 650 miles. Border Patrol areas with enhanced or expanded barriers have been successful. That’s a fact. They have seen a 90 percent decrease in illegal traffic.

Now, over the past month, Speaker Pelosi has called the so-called wall “immoral.”

I couldn’t disagree more. In my opinion what’s immoral is not addressing the humanitarian crisis that ruins lives on both sides of the border—some of the issues I’ve been talking about in terms of human trafficking and the horrible opioid and heroin epidemic that’s hitting our country and our state.

I wish I could tell you when this is going to end—the partial government shutdown. The good news is we actually last year funded the vast majority of the government through the appropriations process. But while this continues, I will continue to work with federal agencies to try to minimize the impact of the shutdown on Alaskans.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Throughout the holidays, I worked with senior officials at the Department of Commerce, including the head of NMFS, Alaskan Chris Oliver.

Working together, we made sure that the cod fishery opened on time and we will continue to work day and night to make sure future fisheries openings in Alaska, some of which are coming in the next week, also open on time with federal government support.

Earlier today, President Trump came to the Capitol to meet with Republican Senators.

I was able to commend his team to him for working with us to keep our fisheries open—that’s hundreds of millions of dollars for Alaska communities and hundreds if not thousands of people working in our fishing industry who are out there fishing now.

And I also personally encouraged him to continue to make sure that federal agencies are helping Alaskans and Americans. For example, I mentioned FEMA—as it continues to work on the recovery from the massive earthquake that hit our state on November 30—to make sure FEMA is helping Alaskans now to the extent allowed by law. And that was an issue I raised with the president today.

Finally, Alaskans should also know that I’ve introduced a bill that ensures that members of our Coast Guard continue to get paid through the shutdown. The Coast Guard is the only branch of the five branches of the military that isn’t getting paid. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are. I know it’s a difficult issue because other federal agency members are not getting paid. But I believe that the brave men and women of the Coast Guard throughout Alaska and our country—who do an amazing job and are risking their lives every day for us protecting the homeland, keeping our fisheries safe and secure—should be getting paid.

I raised this issue with the president as well today.

I know this shutdown is tough for many federal workers and their families in Alaska. They do great work for us and our nation.

Know that we are continuing to work on a solution that helps better secure our country and to create a better, stronger immigration system—one that works for those immigrating and seeking asylum, and one that works for the citizens of our own nation who live here.

We’re going to keep working hard on all of these issues, but I wanted to make sure that you heard directly from me in detail on some of the things we’re debating and discussing in the Congress right now.

Thank you for your attention on these issues and if there are other things related to the partial shutdown that you or anyone else in Alaska need help on, do not hesitate to call my office. Thank you.

Senator Dan Sullivan
Washington D.C.

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