(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, delivered remarks at the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Conference Committee Meeting. In her opening statement, Murray called on the conference committee to continue to build on recent bipartisan momentum to address some of the immediate accountability and transparency concerns plaguing the VA, and fix its deep-seated structural and cultural challenges.
Full text of Senator Murray’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you Mr. Chairman.
“I believe that when it comes to caring for our nation’s heroes, we cannot accept anything less than excellence.
“So while the Department generally offers very high quality health care and does many things as well as, or better than, the private sector—I am very frustrated to be here, once again, talking about these deeply disturbing issues and allegations.
“It’s extremely disappointing that the Department has repeatedly failed to address wait times for health care.
“GAO and the Inspector General have reported on these problems many times over the years.
“And last Congress we did a great deal of work around wait times, particularly for mental health care.
“We learned then that VA has no reliable or accurate way of knowing if they are providing timely access to mental health care.
“I think VA is starting to see that business as usual is not acceptable.
“So I am very glad to be serving on this Conference Committee.
“Calling for a formal conference is a very rare step in veterans issues, and I think that shows how severe the problems facing VA are, and how serious Members are about fixing them.
“There have been major bipartisan efforts in both the House and the Senate to move legislation addressing these problems. Many of the Members here have been part of those efforts and I commend them all for their commitment to bipartisanship and putting the needs of our veterans first.
“I want to personally thank Chairman Sanders and Senator McCain for all the work they did over the last few weeks to get us here.
“I appreciated working with you over those weeks and look forward to seeing where we can make compromises in order to pass a bill and begin ensuring veterans get the care they need and deserve.
“I also want to commend Chairman Sanders and Chairman Miller, for bringing this conference together as it shows how serious the two of you are about getting to the heart of this matter and addressing this critical issue.
“Working with you two over the past few years, I know how dedicated you are when it comes to taking care of our veterans.
“Now it is vital that we continue to build on that bipartisan momentum to address some of the immediate accountability and transparency concerns plaguing the VA, and to fix its deep-seated structural and cultural challenges.
“The bills before us have some important provisions that will help address these very complex problems.
“First and foremost, caring for our veterans is a commitment we make as a nation when we go to war.
“Our brave servicemembers have sacrificed so much and we need to make sure their country is there for them when they come home—no matter what it takes.
“I know Members here have a wide range of concerns.
“I hope to work with all of you to address these concerns responsibly and in a way that puts our veterans first and gives the VA the tools they need to address the challenges they face.
“That means building and strengthening the VA system so it delivers the best care over the long term.
So it is important for us to act quickly to start making these changes.
And as more problems are uncovered, and as the investigations proceed, we will need more action from VA, the Administration, and Congress.
Because the government made a promise to the men and women who answered the call of duty—and one of the most important ways we uphold that is by making sure our veterans can access the health care they need and deserve.