By Brian Gawley, Peninsula Daily News
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"I hope to get input from veterans who need help. I love to get help for those folks," said Van De Wege, who has never served in the military.
"I'm proud of our vets and I fully believe they deserve the benefits they were promised."
Van De Wege, D-Sequim, along with Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, and Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, represents the 24th District, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties and one third of Grays Harbor County.
He was appointed to the Joint Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs by House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.
The committee studies issues pertaining to veterans, active military forces and National Guard and reserve components.
It also looks into the structure and administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Military Department.
The committee makes recommendations to the state Legislature.
Van De Wege, a firefighter/paramedic with Sequim-based Clallam County Fire District No. 3, said he pursued the committee assignment.
"I became interested for a number of reasons, including the large numbers of veterans in this district," he said.
"I also was surprised at the number of veterans who contacted my office because they were not helped at the federal level.
"It felt good to get them pointed in the right direction. A call from my office can make a little bit of difference.
He also helped petition the federal Department of Veterans Affairs for a virtual veterans clinic in Clallam County, which turned out to be successful, Van De Wege said.
A "virtual" Veterans Affairs clinic opened earlier this year at 1005 Georgiana St., in Port Angeles.
Through a visiting VA nurse practitioner, the clinic will offer only primary care. Vets who need specialty treatment still must travel to the VA center in Seattle.
The arrangement is called "virtual" because it will use the offices and equipment of existing health care providers.
"Struggling to locate the virtual VA office out here is something I'll take with me to this committee," he said.
"We can't forget there are veterans all over the state deserving of state services."
Quite a few veterans programs are run by the state, he said, such as reduced fees for ferry fees, park passes and hunting and fishing licenses, employment preference, educational assistance and financial assistance for burial.
"This appointment is useful for getting help for veterans in the district and statewide," he said.
"On the national level we've seen some pretty bad treatment of veterans."
According to 2002 figures from the VA, Clallam County had 10,529 veterans, Jefferson County had 4,404 veterans and Grays Harbor County had 8,447 veterans.
Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-417-3532 or firstname.lastname@example.org.