"Veterans with PTSD deserve the VA's compassion and support, not costly investigations, penalties and stigma," Murray said. "Veterans should not be punished for mistakes the VA has made, and that's what my amendment ensures."
Earlier this year, the VA announced plans to investigate the PTSD disability claims of 72,000 veterans. An earlier study of a small number of cases by the VA's Inspector General found errors in about one-third of the claims examined. Many of the problems uncovered were paperwork errors. Murray and veterans organizations like the American Legion and the Paralyzed Veterans of America feared the VA would use the review to strip benefits from veterans with mental illness.
The review would also take time and resources away from processing current disability claims.
"The VA must not delay its work on today's disability claims in order to investigate decisions it made years ago," Murray said.
Murray said the VA's review would send a message to veterans that if they seek help for PTSD, they will be subject to scrutiny.
"It's already hard enough for veterans to seek care for mental health problems. I can't stand by and let the VA throw down another barrier in front of veterans with PTSD," Murray said.
Murray blocked the review today by inserting language into the FY 2006 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, which passed the full Senate this afternoon. Murray's language says the review cannot proceed until the VA justifies the program to Congress. It also ensures veterans cannot be stripped of their benefits except in cases of fraud.
Veterans leaders applauded Murray's work.
"Senator Murray has given veterans some body armor to protect them from administrative errors and penalties," said Skip Dreps, government relations director for the Northwest Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, which represents 20,000 veterans nationwide, including 500 in Washington state. "We bore the burden of battle once, and we shouldn’t have to bear the battle again when our government makes mistakes in our benefits."
Now that the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill has passed the Senate, it must be reconciled with the House of Representative's version.
In other veterans news, last week, Senator Murray announced new transitional housing for homeless veterans in Washington state. She also voted against a bill that would drain resources away from veterans healthcare to conduct a study of workforce privatization.
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