News Releases

Murray Calls for Change of Culture at VA During Confirmation Hearing for New Veterans Secretary

Jan 14 2009

Murray invites Secretary-Designate Shinseki to visit Washington state veterans facilities

Calls for proactive approach to meeting long-term challenges, better care for women veterans, and warns against increased fees and co-pays for veterans

Listen Now:

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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned Retired General Eric Shinseki, President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs, about challenges facing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Senator Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and an outspoken leader in fighting for veterans’ benefits and care, discussed changing the overall culture at the VA, improving care for women veterans, and working to make the VA a more proactive agency. Secretary-Designate Shinseki’s nomination is expected to be voted on by the full Senate as part of a package of Obama administration nominees on January 20th.

Changing the Culture
Senator Murray began her questioning of Secretary-Designate Shinseki by highlighting some of the major failures that the VA has attempted to downplay under the Bush administration and how he would work to change the culture at the VA. 

“Over the past 8 years, the VA has developed a track record and culture of downplaying some potentially embarrassing internal issues,” said Senator Murray. “Whether it’s budget shortfalls or inaccurate suicide data, and this has come at the expense of the veterans we’re serving. “

Senator Murray went on to ask Secretary-Designate Shinseki how he will go about building a VA that “focuses on providing for veterans needs rather than avoiding public relations disasters.” 

Murray’s question on changing the culture at the VA and Secretary-Designate Shinseki’s response.

Women Veterans
Senator Murray also discussed improving care for women veterans.  Senator Murray is the author of legislation that would expand and improve health care services to women veterans, particularly women who have served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. - Details on Murray’s women veterans legislation

“Women make up about fourteen percent of the current active duty military but they are still very much a minority at the VA,” said Senator Murray. “A lot of women don’t see themselves as veterans and they don’t get the adequate care when they go in.  The VA wasn’t built for women but they now have to be.”

Murray’s question and Secretary-Designate Shinseki’s response on women veterans

Inviting Secretary-Designate Shinseki to Visit Washington State
Senator Murray also extended an open invitation to Secretary-Designate Shinseki to visit Washington state facilities.

“I want to invite you out to my state,” said Senator Murray.  “We have a number of VA facilities and I’d love to see you come out and see some of the work we are doing. I know our veterans would appreciate you being out on the ground.”

Listen - Senator Murray invites Secretary-Designate Shinseki to visit Washington state facilities (half way through audio clip)

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The following is Senator Murray’s opening statement at today’s confirmation hearing:

Senator Akaka, Senator Burr, thank you very much for holding today’s hearing to discuss the nomination of General Eric Shinseki as the next Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

General Shinseki, welcome to the Committee.

You have been nominated to what I believe is one of the most challenging, and rewarding, positions in our government.  I applaud your willingness to take on this critical position and I look forward to working closely with you if you are confirmed. 

I have always said we need a VA Secretary who will be honest about what our veterans need and have the backbone to stand up and ask for it. 

Too many of the problems at the VA today have had to be “brought to light” by GAO reports, news organizations, investigations or whistleblowers. 

A GAO report following the VA’s $3 billion budget shortfall of 2005 showed that the VA had misled Congress, concealed funding problems and based its projections on inaccurate models.

A television network uncovered disturbing veterans’ suicide numbers, while an internal email from the VA’s own head of Mental Health expressed a desire to cover up the data.

McClatchy news found that the VA has repeatedly exaggerated the past successes of its medical system. 

And the list goes on.

General Shinseki, I worked in the Seattle VA during college and I have seen the incredible dedication and work of staff and doctors and nurses on the ground.  These everyday heroes are working to make sure America’s veterans are receiving the care they deserve.

But both veterans and VA staff have been done a disservice by a top-down bureaucracy that has failed to be honest with Congress and been resistant to change.

Under Secretary Peake’s leadership, progress has been made.  I believe he’s leaving the VA as a better agency than he found it.

But much work remains.

Veterans are still waiting too long for benefits.  

Female veterans are returning to a system that is ill-prepared to care for their unique needs. 

Facilities are in desperate need of renovations. 

And twenty percent of veterans are returning home with serious mental health needs to a VA that still doesn’t have the mechanisms in place to care for them. 

I know that you have been talking to veterans and VSOs and hearing about these challenges, and listening to veterans themselves is a key part of this job.

America’s veterans deserve a truthful advocate who will break through the red tape and make veteran’s – not the bottom line – the priority of VA management.

Having sat next to President-elect Obama on this Committee, I know his dedication to those who have served our nation and to their families. 

I very much support his pledge to reverse the current Administration’s flawed decision to close the doors of the VA to Priority 8 veterans.

As you know, I sponsored legislation to reopen access for all those who have served, and I applaud your commitment to achieve this goal responsibly as well.

As you wrote in response to one of this committee’s pre-hearing questions – quote - “the overarching challenge that the VA faces is its transformation into a 21st Century organization as called for by the President-elect.”

That’s no small task.  But given your history of tackling complex problems and your record of speaking truth to power, I think you are up for the challenge.

Change won’t happen overnight.  We know that we will continue to face challenges at the VA no matter who is in charge. 

But with transparency, honesty and energy, the next VA Secretary can begin to tackle these challenges and make a difference for our veterans. 

I look forward to working with you if you are confirmed and I hope you view Congress as a partner – not an adversary – in your work to ensure our veterans get the care and compassion they have earned.