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Washington Veterans LOSE Healthcare Battle in U.S. Senate

Mar 16 2005

Republicans Kill Murray's Amendment to Boost VA Healthcare by $2.85 Billion

IMPACT: Veterans Will Face Longer Lines, VA Hiring Freeze, Less Access to Care

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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The Republican majority in the U.S. Senate today turned their backs on the needs of America’s veterans as they voted to defeat an amendment by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) that would have increased funding for veterans’ health care by $2.85 billion – just three percent over last year’s funding levels. The Murray Amendment was defeated 47-53 in a setback for new and existing veterans throughout the country.

“Veterans in Washington state and across the country are waiting for the health care they deserve today,” Murray said. “But instead of seeing a doctor, they’re seeing long lines, red tape and understaffed hospitals. With new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, these problems are only going to get worse. My amendment would have done the responsible thing and provided our veterans with the care they have earned.”

Murray's amendment would have eliminated waiting lists, lifted a "hiring freeze" on VA medical staff, and funded new VA clinics and improvements at existing VA facilities.

“Today, members of the U.S. Senate had a choice. They could choose to keep the promise to our nation’s veterans and make them a priority in this budget, or they could turn their backs. I am disappointed to say that the majority party made the wrong choice,” Senator Murray said.

Murray's Plan Offered Real Help for Veterans

  • Reject the President’s proposal to cut funding to State veterans’ homes

  • Eliminate the means-test for veterans to enroll for VA care

  • Provide for much-needed mental health services

  • Reject the President’s proposal to drive veterans away from the VA with annual user fees and increased prescription drug costs.

New Veterans Coming Home from Iraq & Afghanistan

Murray spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon in support of her healthcare amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution. She cited the increasing demand for veterans services, particularly as new veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, including approximately 4,000 National Guard members from Washington state.

Washington Veterans React

Washington veteran leaders expressed frustration at the defeat.

"Lord knows our veterans need the funding Senator Murray fought for," said Ernie Butler, advocacy director of the Northwest Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America. "It’s just hard to believe that 53 Senators in this day and age voted against the help our veterans need. It’s going to have a painful impact on paralyzed veterans and all veterans. We need shorter waiting lists and more medical staff – not longer lines and overcrowded facilities."

"What's going on," asked Michael Peterson, junior vice commander of the Department of Washington, Veterans of Foreign Wars. "We put our lives on the line for our country, and if we get injured, why should we get substandard care?"

Peterson said Murray's amendment was badly needed by Washington's 700,000 veterans.

"We're way behind. We're facing long wait times. It can take up to 60 days just get a routine appointment, and if you need eye care, you're going to wait a year to see a doctor," Peterson said.

Who Voted Against Veterans?

Murray warned that Senators will have to explain their vote to disappointed veterans.

"With this vote, we're going to find out who's serious about helping our veterans and who's just talking. With this vote, every Senator will have to announce publicly whether they're making life better for veterans or whether they're making excuses," Murray said on the Senate floor Tuesday night.

VFW's Peterson urged veterans across the country to see who voted against them and to take action.

"We voted them in. We can vote them out," Peterson said.

What Message Does the Defeat Send?

"This sends a terrible message to those who are serving our country today," said Ernie Butler, from the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Twice during the debate, Murray noted that failing to serve today's veterans could hurt America's future security. She displayed a chart with a quote from George Washington, who said in 1789:

"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country."
– George Washington

Veterans Funding Should Be "Mandatory"

Murray also reiterated her support for a bill to make veterans funding "mandatory."

"I've been convinced for a long time that we need to move VA health care out of the annual budget process. That's why I've sponsored legislation to make VA healthcare funding 'mandatory' so it's always there, no matter what type of budget games are going on. But the Republican majority has blocked that common-sense proposal every year – so the fight goes on," Murray said Tuesday night.

Senator Murray offered a similar amendment on March 10th in the Senate Budget Committee, but that proposal was defeated on a party line vote of 10-12.

Murray Calls Veterans Healthcare a "Personal Issue"

"My father served in World War II and returned as a disabled veteran. During the Vietnam War, I interned in the Seattle VA hospital," Murray told other Senators. "I know first-hand the scars and wounds that burden our veterans when they come back home. During the Gulf War, when our soldiers were coming home with Gulf War Syndrome, I brought the VA Secretary out to Washington state so he could hear from the veterans I was hearing from. And over the past two years, when President Bush tried to close the doors at three VA hospitals in Washington state, I worked with veterans and community leaders from across the state to keep those facilities open. I continue to press the VA to open new community clinics in North Central Washington and in Whatcom County – to help serve veterans who today have little access to VA services."

Murray's New Committee Appointment Gives Washington Veterans a Bigger Voice

On March 3rd, Senator Murray was appointed to the Senate Subcommittee that funds veterans care, known formally as the Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee.

Murray also speaks up for Washington's veterans as a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

On behalf of Washington state's 33,525 VFW members, Michael Peterson thanked the Senator for leading the fight.

"Senator Murray has been a staunch supporter of veterans in Washington state."


--> See how each Senator voted

    A "yea" vote is in favor of increasing veterans funding.

    A "nay" vote is against the $2.85 billion increase.

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