(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) used her position on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee to fight for veterans who need healthcare, for veterans impacted by Hurricane Katrina, and for dedicated VA employees who provide first-rate service to America's veterans.
Murray stood her ground and voted against a bill that would waste millions of VA healthcare dollars on a privatization study.
Today, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee met to mark up two veterans' healthcare proposals. Murray supported one proposal, S.716, because it will expand and improve Vet Centers, which provide convenient and confidential readjustment counseling to returning veterans.
But Murray voted against the second proposal, S.1182, because it would waste scarce healthcare dollars on a study to explore outsourcing dedicated VA employees. It also failed to provide adequate support for veterans who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Katrina Veterans Deserve More Help
Throughout today's hearing, Murray worked to make the bill more helpful to veterans who were impacted by Hurricane Katrina. She supported an amendment by Ranking Member Daniel Akaka (D-HI) that would help middle-income veterans who reside in regions affected by Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, that amendment was weakened during the markup so that it only provides affected veterans with a token level of assistance.
Murray will continue to advocate for displaced veterans. She is also a cosponsor of a bill (S.1646) that mirrors the Akaka amendment. It would eliminate co-payments for some Priority 8 veterans (middle-income, low priority veterans) who were already in the VA system and who were impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
Murray Supports VA Employees; Opposes Privatization Study
In today's markup, Murray also worked to block a wasteful study to explore outsourcing the jobs of dedicated VA employees.
Murray noted that VA employees have been praised for their outstanding work protecting and caring for veterans who were impacted by Hurricane Katrina. A recent report by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson called the efforts of VA employees "heroic."
"Now, three weeks after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast -- and a week after Secretary Nicholson spoke so highly of the sacrifices of our VA employees -- this Committee stands ready to slap those employees in the face. Instead of saying thank you for their dedication to the mission, we are moving forward with privatizing those employees," Murray told the Committee. "I don’t think there is a Senator in this room who believes that contracted employees are as dedicated to the core mission as VA employees or would have been as dedicated to saving those lives in Louisiana and Mississippi."
Murray noted that based on similar privatization studies, the VA study could cost $300 million. Murray said it is wrong to waste scarce healthcare dollars on a study.
"Recent damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to VA facilities, combined with severe budget shortfalls on top of rising health care costs, make it more and more difficult for the VA to provide veterans with access to medical care. Moving forward with this very expensive study instead of providing care to veterans is wrong," Murray said.
Murray has been fighting the privatization plan since it first emerged. In July 2005, she sent a letter with three other committee members to Committee Chairman Larry Craig (R-ID), calling for the controversial study to be removed.
In today's hearing, Murray worked with Senator Akaka to remove the study from the bill. That effort failed. When the bill (including the study) was brought up for a vote, Murray voted against it. Despite Murray's opposition, the bill passed out of the Veterans Affairs Committee and will next head to Senate floor for debate. A date has not yet been scheduled.
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