(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, spoke in support of the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla at a Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing examining legislation that would authorize construction of a new outpatient clinic at the facility. The VA approved funding for the design and construction of the clinic last November, and Senator Murray is now working to ensure that authorization for the program passes through the committee and into law.
Senator Murray has worked since 2003 to save the Walla Walla VA Medical Center and to ensure that it has a future. She successfully fought for VA approval of the $71.4 million to design and construct a new outpatient clinic for Walla Walla area veterans.
“Thousands of Washington state veterans depend on the Walla Walla VA, and it’s up to us to make sure we keep our promise to those veterans by keeping this facility open and thriving,” said Senator Patty Murray. “We have come a long way since the VA proposed shutting the Walla Walla facility down, but after more than five years of uncertainty for Walla Walla area veterans, they deserve to see this bill pass.”
The VA has already started work on this important project, and this legislation will authorize the construction of a 65,000 square foot outpatient clinic that will be located on the campus of the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center. The clinic will serve nearly 70,000 area veterans.
Senator Murray has taken multiple steps to save the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla from closure and to support the construction of the outpatient clinic.
A summary of some of Senator Murray’s work follows:
- In July 2003, the VA was trying to close health care facilities in Tacoma, Vancouver and Walla Walla. Senator Murray immediately wrote to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi, and questioned the VA’s general counsel at a Senate hearing.
- The next day, Secretary Principi called Senator Murray and gave her his word that the American Lake VA Medical Center in Tacoma would not be closed. He also pledged that the VA’s CARES Commission would take input directly from Washington state veterans regarding the Vancouver and Walla Walla facilities. Secretary Principi kept his word.
- In the months that followed, Murray worked closely with local veterans and visited the Vancouver medical center. She submitted testimony at CARES hearings in Vancouver and Walla Walla.
- Then in February 2004, the CARES Commission submitted its report to Secretary Principi. It recommended keeping the Vancouver hospital open. But unfortunately, the Commission recommended closing the Walla Walla facility.
- Senator Murray immediately sent a letter with Senator Cantwell to Secretary Principi opposing any closure.
- In April 2004, Senator Murray chaired a hearing and heard from veterans to build an official record to press the VA Secretary to keep the hospital open. She also made a personal plea to President Bush to save the Walla Walla VA hospital.
- In May 2004, after nearly ten months of work to defend the hospital, including numerous private meetings, letters and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings, Secretary Principi told Senator Murray in a meeting that the VA would remove Walla Walla from the VA’s closure list, thereby preserving care for the region's 69,000 veterans.
- In September 2004, Senator Murray earmarked funds for the community task force to study the future of the Walla Walla VAMC.
- Senator Murray then pressed Secretary Nicholson to make the decision about the future of Walla Walla locally driven.
- In June 2007, Senator Murray included language in the VA spending bill urging the VA to fund construction of a new outpatient clinic in Walla Walla in FY 2009.
- At General James Peake’s nomination hearing to be VA Secretary in December 2007, Senator Murray invited General Peake to visit Walla Walla and learn of its importance once confirmed. Secretary Peake took up Senator Murray’s invitation and toured the Walla Walla VAMC with Senator Murray in February 2008.
- The VA ultimately approved a plan to construct an outpatient clinic, and that project was included in the FY2009 major construction priority list.