(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray spoke on the Senate floor about the need to keep our promise to America's veterans. She noted some of the ways our country is falling short in caring for veterans and outlined a legislative agenda to meet these critical needs.
Senator Murray's remarks follow:
On this Veterans Day, I want to share a few ideas about the meaning this day holds for my family, and for thousands of families throughout Washington State.
Today is a day to honor the sacrifices that generations of Americans have made to defend our country and to support freedom throughout the world. It is a day to reflect on the courage and bravery of our soldiers. And it's made even more special as we think of all our military personnel who are deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hostile environments.
But it is much more than that. It is a day to make sure that we are living up to the promise we make to all veterans – a promise that President Lincoln described as, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan."
Mr. President, today throughout Washington state, people are coming together to honor our veterans at places like the Tahoma National Cemetery, the Washington Veterans Home, and in communities large and small. Washington state is home to almost 700,000 veterans, and every day I am honored to represent them in the United States Senate.
Growing up, I saw firsthand the many ways that military service can affect both veterans and their families. My father served in World War II. He was among the first soldiers to land on Okinawa. He came home as a disabled veteran and was awarded the Purple Heart.
I should note that, like many soldiers of his generation, my father did not talk about his experiences during the war. In fact, we only really learned about them by reading his journals after he passed away. And I think that experience offers a larger lesson about veterans in general. They are reluctant to call attention to their service, and they are they are reluctant to ask for help. That's why we've got to publicly recognize their sacrifices and contributions. It's up to us to make sure that they get the recognition they have earned and not just on Veterans Day.
It's one of the reasons why a few years ago I worked to ensure that all veterans could get military funeral honors. My father had them, and they meant a great deal to our family. I was proud to introduce legislation and to work with the VA and veterans service organizations to ensure that any family that requests military funeral honors can get them.
In addition to my own family experiences, when I was a senior in college at Washington State University, I spent a semester interning at the Seattle Veterans Hospital, helping to treat young soldiers returning from Vietnam. I will never forget the sound of the door locking behind me after walking on to the hospital's psychiatric ward to spend the day with these heroes. While these combat veterans were my age, they had endured experiences most of us could never imagine.
Today, as I see an Administration that's considering closing veterans hospitals in Washington state – even as today's veterans have to wait six months just to see a doctor and as the war in Iraq adds to the number of veterans who will need medical care – I get upset, and I fight with everything I've got.
Our veterans have already fought for our country, they shouldn't have to fight to get the healthcare or benefits they were promised, so we've got to fight on their behalf.
Today we must ask: Are we keeping our promise to America's veterans?
Here are some facts to help us answer that question:
FACT: Right now, 80,000 veterans are waiting six months or longer for an appointment at VA hospitals.
FACT: For the past two years, an average of 14,000 veterans have been waiting more than 15 months for their "expedited" disability claims to be finalized.
FACT: Veterans could face new fees and higher co-payments - just to get the healthcare they're already entitled to.
FACT: Each year in Congress, there's a debate over how much money we should spend on veterans' healthcare. Too often, our veterans loose out to other budget priorities.
FACT: Disabled veterans pay a high penalty through what's called the "Disabled Veterans Tax." They must give up a dollar of their pension for every dollar of disability pay they receive.
FACT: The VA is looking to "reconfigure" veteran's health care and is now studying the closure of two VA facilities in Washington State.
FACT: And finally, the war in Iraq -- and the horrible toll it's taking on our soldiers -- is increasing the number of veterans who will need medical care for years down the road.
Those are all facts. To me, they show that we're coming up short in keeping our promise to America's veterans. So what can we do about it? Simply put, we need to make veterans services a priority once again.
First, to cut down on the long waits that veterans endure, to help expedite claims, and to avoid higher fees and co-payments, we need to increase funding for veterans services.
To end the annual appropriations game, we should make VA health care funding mandatory. That's why I support the Veterans' Health Care Funding Guarantee Act. It would make veterans' healthcare an automatic priority for our nation. The VFW, AMVETS, the Disabled American Veterans and many other veterans groups strongly support this bill.
We must also make sure that the Department of Veterans Affairs does not close critical medical facilities at a time when more are seeking VA healthcare.
In addition, we must end the Disabled Veterans Tax and ensure that veterans are not penalized just because they receive disability pay. I'm proud to be a cosponsor of a plan would authorize full payment of both retirement pay and disability compensation to half a million disabled military retirees. Unlike other proposals, our plan would take effect immediately – instead of over 10 years.
And finally, we've got to do right by today's veterans and by tomorrow's veterans. The brave men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan today will need our help when they return home. How we treat them will send a signal to a generation of young people who may be considering military service. We've got to keep our promise today and tomorrow. So while we are currently coming up short, I'm going to keep pushing for the solutions that will truly serve our veterans.
Mr. President, America's veterans have earned our respect, and they have earned the benefits they were promised when they signed up. They should not have to fight for the care and support they were promised. On this day -- and every day that I am given the honor of representing them -- I will stand up and fight for Washington's veterans and the freedom and security they have given us through their sacrifices in war and peace.
Let's keep our promise.