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The Domer family first contacted me in December of 2003 to help discover the remains of Sgt. Domer and hopefully have him returned to Kansas. Over the course of the next couple of years, I stayed in contact with the family to assist in their efforts to gain information regarding recovery efforts for Sgt. Domer. In 2005, we learned that the Army was able to survey the crash site to determine whether recovery was possible at that time.
After years of working with the Army, Ken Domer and his family, the underwater investigation of the wreckage was finally scheduled for early 2013. However, we were later informed that the water in the surrounding area was not accurately chartered, hindering the boats’ ability to investigate for the wreckage. As a result, the investigative team had to forego the planned activity.
In early 2015, I contacted the office of the Secretary of Defense to advocate for Sgt. Domer’s case and learned that efforts were being made to coordinate with the Navy regarding the navigability of the waters to assess the mission. During this process, Ken Domer was also working with Pacific Wrecks, a non-governmental organization which had discovered Sgt. Domer’s plane in 2000 and completed a dive to the plane in 2002.
Now that we had an exact location, I met with the Director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) – the agency in charge of recovering our fallen servicemember’s remains – to see to it that the investigative mission of Sgt. Domer’s crash site would occur as planned in 2016.
The investigative mission took place in January 2016, followed by a recovery mission in November. In 2017, the recovery mission findings were shared with the Domer family and my office, which included a picture of a signet ring that was found on the ocean floor.
We requested that the ring be returned to Sgt. Domer’s family, and I met with the DPAA Director again to submit an official request to return the ring to Kansas. The family was able to locate a photograph of Sgt. Domer wearing the ring right before he was deployed to the Pacific. Following the proper approvals and this evidence connecting Sgt. Domer to the ring, the ring was delivered to the family last year.
During the service yesterday, the family told Sgt. Domer’s story and shared their tradition of visiting the Centralia Cemetery each Memorial Day to honor their family member’s sacrifice at his empty grave.
As a symbol of Sgt. Domer’s remains, I was grateful to have the opportunity to present his family with his ring recovered from the ocean floor at the site of the crash to his three nephews, along with an American flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol on February 28, 2020, for Sgt. Domer’s 100th birthday.
While no one in the living family knew Sgt. Domer, they have demonstrated to us the importance of honoring and remembering those who came before us, working for over a decade to bring peace to their family.
On my way home from Sgt. Domer’s memorial service, I joined neighbors and family members for a community gathering in Vermillion to recognize Memorial Day. I paid my respects to American heroes at the cemetery, spoke with folks on Main Street and caught part of the Peterson Brothers concert which concluded the community’s weekend events.
Prioritizing Veterans as Lead Republican on the Senate VA Committee
Recognizing Veterans’ Mental Health Month
No matter what mental health challenges you are facing, you are not alone. May was Mental Health Awareness Month, and we all can do our part to help create a conversation about mental health for veterans. To all of our servicemembers and veterans, I want to say thank you for your service. Military service is a high calling and requires great sacrifice.
Military service can take a toll on servicemembers leaving the invisible wounds of war – PTSD, depression, anxiety and more. If you or a loved one are in need of immediate mental health assistance, please call 800-273-8255, then select 1. Click here or below to watch my message to veterans.
Addressing Gaps in Health Care for Rural Veterans
This week, I introduced the Guaranteeing Healthcare Access to Personnel Who Served (GHAPS) Act with my Senate VA colleagues. This legislation would address gaps in veteran health care to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is serving veterans in hard-to-reach places.
While Congress has passed sweeping comprehensive legislation in the VA health care space in recent years, veterans on the margins—like rural and highly rural, overseas, or community care veterans—still face challenges in accessing care. Whether a veteran lives in Manhattan, Kansas, or Manhattan, New York, the VA should work to find solutions to meet their unique health care needs. Following the implementation of the MISSION Act and the John Scott Hannon Act, we now know the programs that have been successful in the effort to care for hard-to-reach veterans. The GHAPS Act would make certain they will continue to have access to these programs no matter where they live for years to come.
Implementing Rapid Retraining Assistance for Unemployed Veterans
This week, the Senate passed the THRIVE Act, legislation that will allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Labor (DOL) to properly implement the rapid retraining program for unemployed veterans. The THRIVE Act is now headed to the President’s desk so that the VA and DOL can work to get unemployed veterans back into jobs so they can provide for themselves and their families.
In 2019, thanks to the many reforms enacted by Congress, we saw the lowest unemployment rate in 20 years. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the unemployment rate for veterans spiked into the double digits in the early surge of the pandemic and continue to be higher than the historic lows we experienced previously. This legislation is one more tool to ensure veterans receive the retraining opportunities they have earned. If signed into law, this legislation will provide needed resources and benefits to our Kansas veterans and the men and women across the country who have raised their right hand to serve our nation and want to return back into the workforce.
Lesser Prairie Chicken Proposal Harmful to Kansas Energy Producers, Farmers, Ranchers and Rural Communities
This week, the Biden administration’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a proposal to list the lesser prairie-chicken (LPC) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This proposal threatens to harm farmers, ranchers, energy producers and rural communities. Kansas and surrounding states invested millions of public and private dollars in conservation efforts in the habitat area, resulting in the bird’s population more than doubling. The decision to propose a listing despite voluntary conservation efforts that continue to successfully restore habitat area removes any incentive for similar locally-driven efforts to occur for other species. This proposal will result in less wildlife conservation in the future, not more. I will continue to fight any effort by the Biden administration to infringe upon the private property rights of Kansans.
My Statement on President Biden’s FY2022 Budget
Four months into this administration, President Biden has already laid out plans for $7.1 trillion of new spending over the next couple of years. It is no surprise that his FY2022 budget proposal calls for the highest level of federal spending since World War II. As our national debt nears $30 trillion and the economy begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, a budget that will raise taxes, cause prices to skyrocket and saddle future generations with burdensome levels of debt should be unthinkable.
I will evaluate the details of the President’s budget and will work with my Senate colleagues to craft a federal budget that supports jobs and American competitiveness while maintaining responsible fiscal boundaries. We cannot spend our way to economic prosperity. Our families and their economic futures are best served by keeping costs low, making certain parents are able to return to work and reining in our national debt
Discussing the NIH’s FY2022 Budget Request
On Wednesday, the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services held a hearing focused on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) FY2022 budget request. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and I spoke about the NIH’s Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program, which provides grants to academic medical centers across the country. The University of Kansas Medical Center participates in the CTSA program and the current framework has allowed them to choose community partners from around the state. Dr. Collins provided assurance that, despite the new leadership at the NIH department overseeing CTSA, the framework would continue to foster essential partnerships between regional research centers and community partners. I also asked Dr. Ned Sharpless, Director of the National Cancer Institute, about the state of Alzheimer’s research in rural areas and was pleased he again accepted an invitation to visit KU’s Cancer Center.
Meeting with Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth
On Wednesday, I met with Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth prior to her confirmation as the first woman to hold this position. During our meeting, we discussed some of the recent achievements and goals of our Army installations in Kansas and our mutual priority of making certain we give our soldiers and veterans the best support possible. We also discussed the importance of the 1st Infantry Division’s ability to deploy quickly to win our nation’s wars, the responsibility placed on Fort Leavenworth as the Army’s intellectual hub, and the National Guard’s ability to support COVID-19 relief efforts throughout last year. I thank her for taking time out of her day to meet with me, and I look forward to working with her as Secretary of the Army.