(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty
Fighting for America's Veterans
"The President’s budget comes out on Monday, and we are going to be looking at it through the eyes of the men and women who have served us overseas," Murray said. "If he sends us another budget that leaves America's veterans behind, he’s going to run straight into a Democratic Congress that will use our gavels, our voices and our votes to protect those who served our country."
One of the speakers was Brady Van Engelen, who graduated from Seattle University and served with the 1st Armored Division in Iraq. In April 2004, Brady was shot in the head by a sniper and was evacuated out of Iraq to recover at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Brady spoke about the great care he received and worried about how other veterans, who suffered more serious injuries, are doing back in their local communities.
Other speakers included: Iraq war veteran John Bruhns; Steve Robinson (Veterans for America); Joyce Raezer (National Military Family Association) and Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and John Tester (D-MT).
Senator Murray's Remarks Follow:
I want to start by thanking my fellow Senators who join me today. You're seeing some of the energetic new members of the Veterans' Affairs committee. Under Chairman Akaka's leadership, we're going to provide the oversight and the accountability that's been missing for many years.
Most importantly, I want to thank the veterans who are here today. You've made us proud with your service overseas, and today you make us proud once again by standing up for your fellow service members who can't come to the Capital to speak out.
This Budget is a Test
We're here today because our country is facing a moment of truth on Iraq War and the care our veterans deserve. On Monday, the President will send us his budget for the coming year, and we will find out if the President is going to offer real help or just more rhetoric for veterans in need.
The President Didn't Mention Veterans
Last week, I listened to the President's State of the Union and I was deeply troubled that not once did he mention the word veterans. That is really a disservice to all those who have served us overseas, and I fear it signals that, once again, the President is going to send us a budget next week that does not meet the needs of our veterans.
The President's Past Budgets have Shortchanged Veterans
We've seen that disgraceful pattern year after year, for the last six years –
- in budgets that seek to lock the doors of the VA to some of our veterans,
- in budgets that impose new fees on America's veterans,
- and in budgets that don't meet the needs throughout our country.
For too long, this Administration has not honored the sacrifice of our service members with a budget that fulfills our commitment to them. They have not planned for the veterans this war is creating, and they have not made a commitment to fund veterans' healthcare as an essential part of the cost of war.
In my own experience in dealing with the VA budget, I have had a hard time just getting straight answers or real numbers. In fact, it’s not just us, the GAO has found – in report after report after report – that VA has misled Congress, concealed funding problems, and based it's projections on inaccurate models.
Two years ago, I was assured many times that the VA had the funding it needed – only to find out later that the VA had a $3 billion shortfall and that the agency had falsified budget savings over many years.
Veterans are still paying the price for this that mistakes, and they cannot afford another budget coming to us that doesn’t meet their needs.
I want to be clear to the President. If he sends us another budget that leaves America's veterans behind, he’s going to run straight into a Democratic Congress that will use our gavels, our voices and our votes to protect those who served our country.
Voters sent us all a message in November, and they’re standing here today to send a message again. On Monday we will find out if the President heard that message or if he's sending us more of the same.
We Need Accurate Numbers of Injured Service Members
Recent news reports have suggested that the Bush Administration cut in half the number of war casualties on the VA website from about 50,000 to about 21,000. I've asked the VA to explain the discrepancy in those numbers, and they still have not provided us with a straight answer.
Veterans Share Our Concerns
I, personally, have gone home and spoken with many veterans in my state of Washington, and like me, they are very, very worried that the President's escalation will further degrade our ability to care for our men and women when they come home.
Today – without the surge – veterans are waiting for the services that they have been promised. If we're not meeting the needs of the veterans today, how are we going to keep a promise to those who are sent in to an escalated war?
We Are Watching
So I’m very glad today to be joined by a number of my fellow Senators on the Veterans’ Committee who are really adamant about making sure we take care of those who serve, who will be part of those voices, and those votes, to make sure that we provide what is asked. We will speak out loudly if this President sends us a budget that does not meet the needs of the men and women who have been asked to serve us.
The bottom line is the President’s budget comes out on Monday, and we are going to be looking at it through the eyes of the men and women who have served us overseas to make sure that they have the funds they’ve been promised. The VA and this Administration are in denial about the costs of war.
It is out responsibility as Americans to make sure that our troops have the equipment they need, that they’re protected, and that when they come home they have whatever services they need, whether it’s for brain injury, which is growing, whether it’s for long-term care, whether it is for post traumatic stress syndrome or for whatever else they need.
This is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue, and we have a responsibility to address it.
The President didn’t say the words ‘veterans’ in his State of the Union speech. He’d better say it loud in capital letters in his budget.