News Releases

Murray and Cantwell Continue to Oppose Closure of Washington State VA Facilities

Dec 19 2003

Senators argue CARES process and the VA not making decisions based on the real needs of Washington state veterans

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell sent a letter to Dr. Robert Roswell, the Department of Veterans' Affairs Under Secretary of Health. In the letter to Dr. Roswell, the senators reaffirm their opposition "to the possible closure of any VA health care facility in Washington state and encourage [him] to focus on expanding access to health care for our veterans."

The Murray/Cantwell letter focuses on a number of issues that serve to limit access to health care and other services for veterans in Washington state. Among the issues cited in the letter are:

  • the VA Health Care System’s low rate of penetration in Washington state;
  • long wait times for veterans to access care;
  • and the lack of long-term care data as a factor in the CARES Commission process.

The letter also notes that veterans in Washington state have lost health care insurance through traditional employer-provided plans during the economic downturn. Washington state continues to have the third highest unemployment rate in the United States.

"Instead of looking to close facilities in Washington state, the VA needs to recognize that Washington state veterans are underserved by the status quo," Murray said. "Already, the VA discourages veterans from seeking care at the VA, resulting in fewer dollars making it into the veterans health care delivery system in Washington state. This is ultimately a question of equity, and right now Washington’s veterans are not being treated equally by this Administration."

"Veterans have stood by us and protected our country and our freedoms," Senator Cantwell said. "In return, our government needs to stand by them. Veterans write to me constantly concerning the outrageous backlogs at VA healthcare centers. Now is the time to be shoring up resources for veterans, not cutting back."

Earlier this week, the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services Commission met at a public hearing in Washington, D.C., to finalize recommendations for its final report to VA Secretary Principi. The CARES Commission concurred with the VA’s draft recommendation to close the Jonathan M. Wainwright VA Medical Center in Walla Walla, Washington.

"I strongly oppose the VA recommendation to close the Walla Walla VA facility and I call upon Secretary Principi to reject closure of this important asset. Instead, Secretary Principi and the VA should engage in a real dialogue with the local veterans and community regarding the future of the Walla Walla facility," Senator Murray said.


The text of the Murray/Cantwell letter to Dr. Roswell follows:

December 19, 2003

The Honorable Robert Roswell, M.D.
Under Secretary for Health
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420-0001

Dear Dr. Roswell:

We are writing today as the representatives of nearly 700,000 veterans living in Washington state, with concern that the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) initiative has not properly considered the current and future need for veterans' health care services in Veterans' Integrated Service Network (VISN) 20.

As you know, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) recently released the "VHA Manual Wait List Survey Balances" detailing national waiting list information from July, 2002 to September, 2003. The Veterans Administration’s (VA) emphasis on reducing waiting times has yielded significant positive results for most VISNs across the country; however, we are troubled by the information shown for VISN 20, which has the largest number of veterans waiting for non-emergent visits.

Of equal concern is the relatively low number of Washington’s veterans using the VA’s health care system. In Fiscal Year 2002, Washington state was second to last in the nation in market penetration (percentage of veterans using the VA Health Care System).

We are well aware that Washington state's veterans are collectively a younger group when compared to other states' veterans population. However, an increasing number of Washington state's veterans who formerly relied on alternate health care providers are finding themselves without care as corporate or private retirement benefits erode and the cost of insurance rises in the midst of our lagging economy.

As you know, we have been following the VA CARES initiative closely. We are concerned that given the long wait-times, artificially-low market penetration, a lack of long-term care data and other circumstances specific to Washington state, are not being addressed in the current CARES process.

VISN 20 and more specifically, Washington state, needs to prepare for an increase in the number of veterans who demand and deserve VA Health Care Services. We need to take proactive steps to reach out to veterans who are without care, and are unaware of the VA benefits they are entitled to.

Therefore, we renew our objection to the possible closure of any VA health care facility in Washington state and encourage you to focus on expanding access to healthcare for our veterans through initiatives such as the one recently signed into law by President Bush, requiring the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to study veterans’ access to hospital care in north-central Washington state.

We are dedicated to ensuring veterans in Washington state have both access to care and receive care in a timely manner, and we look forward to working with you toward that end.


Patty Murray
United States Senator

Maria Cantwell
United States Senator

Cc: The Honorable Anthony Principi, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs

The Honorable Everett Alvarez, Jr., Chairman, Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission

Dr. Les Burger, M.D., Director,Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 20