(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The Republican majority in the U.S. Senate today turned their backs on the needs of America’s veterans. The majority defeated an amendment by Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) that would have guaranteed protection for veterans from harmful new fees and co-pays and boosted the federal investment in veterans care and services by $1.5 billion.
“This is deja-vu for our veterans,” said Senator Murray who last year led the fight in the Senate to cover a deficit in the VA health care budget. “Those of us who have been on the ground, talked with our veterans and with those that provide the care know that we are still not doing enough for those who have sacrificed for us.”
The Akaka-Murray amendment would have addressed some of the biggest challenges facing America's veterans including transition assistance for Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans and increased assistance for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health challenges.
Specifically, the amendment would have:
- Helped more Iraq War veterans make the transition home by providing $231 million for transition assistance;
- Increased Support for PTSD and Mental Healthcare by providing an additional $321 million. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 35 percent of Iraq veterans received mental health care during their first year home;
- Expanded Veteran Support Clinics by providing $81 million to expand Vet Centers around the country to provide daily support and assistance to veterans;
- Eliminated new Fees and Co-Payments. Murray's amendment would provide $825 million to roll back a Bush Administration plan to raise fees and co-payments on veterans who seek VA healthcare;
- Supported Rehabilitation by providing $42 million to expand residential rehabilitation services for veterans.
Last month, President Bush submitted a Fiscal Year 2007 budget proposal that included increased fees and co-pays meant to dissuade veterans from accessing VA care. In fact, according to the VA, the President’s plan would discourage more than 200,000 veterans from accessing care and would discourage another 1.1 million from enrolling in the VA healthcare system at all.
Last week, Senator Murray offered this same amendment in the Budget Committee to improve upon the Republican budget request, but was defeated on a party-line vote.
“It’s disappointing that Senate Republicans have endorsed a White House plan that increases barriers to veterans care rather than fulfilling a solemn promise to care for those who have served us. I will continue to fight to protect our veterans and to increase access to care and benefits,” Murray said.