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VETERANS: Senator Murray Reminds Senate of Critical Need to Pass Veterans and Military Construction Spending Bill

Jul 19 2011

The bill includes life-saving investments in Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD research, as well as mental health care for those struggling with ‘invisible wounds of war’

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, senior member of the Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee, gave a speech on the Senate Floor urging her colleagues to pass the critical health care and benefits investments included in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill the Senate is considering this week. Among many other things, the bill includes life-saving investments in Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder research as well as mental health care for those struggling with the invisible wounds of war. The bill also makes a significant investment in preparing the VA for the influx of new Iraq and Afghanistan veterans while supporting housing opportunities and care for older veterans.

“No matter what fiscal crisis we face, no matter how divided we may be over approaches to cutting our debt and deficit, no matter how heated the rhetoric here in Washington D.C. gets, we have to keep our commitments to our veterans and service members,” said Senator Murray. We have to move this bill forward and we have to provide those who wore- or are wearing- the uniform with the peace of mind that we are keeping up our promise to them.”

For details on the critical veterans and military construction priorities included in the bill click HERE. The bill also includes over $500 million in investments for Washington state military bases.

Funding broken down by base appears below: 

  • Naval Station Bremerton – $13,341,000
  • Naval Station Kitsap – $121,844,000
  • Fairchild Air Force Base – $27,600,000
  • Joint Base Lewis McChord – $331,300,000
  • Naval Air Station Whidbey Island – $25,000,000 

Read the full text of the speech below:

“Madam President, there is no question that we need to make smart decisions to tighten our belts and reduce our nation’s debt and deficit. 

“American families have done it around their kitchen table, and we owe it to them to get our fiscal house in order.

“But there is also one group of Americans that we owe an even greater promise to.

“A group who we can never allow to become pawns, fall through the cracks, or be forgotten altogether in these budget debates.

“And that is our men and women in uniform - and the veterans who have protected our nation for decades. 

“And that is why I’m here today – in the midst of the whirlwind of debt and deficit rhetoric – to remind us all of the critical nature of the bill we have on the floor this week.

“To remind us that no matter what fiscal crisis we face, no matter how divided we may be over approaches to cutting our debt and deficit, no matter how heated the rhetoric here in Washington D.C. gets, we have to keep our commitments to our veterans and service members.

“We have to move this bill forward.

“And we have to provide those who wore - or are wearing - the uniform with the peace of mind that we are keeping up our promise to them.

“Now Madam President,  a couple of years ago we took a proactive step to ensure that the non-stop wrangling over appropriations bills here in Congress didn’t interfere with the health care that our veterans have earned.

“Thanks to the work of Senator Akaka - and many others - VA spending for health care is now appropriated a year in advance.

“Protecting it from an imperfect budget process that is so often affected by politics.

But I remember that when we passed advanced appropriations we were very clear:

“Our foresight was not going to be an excuse to sit on our hands when VA funding was up for consideration.

“We were not going to allow a precautionary measure to get in the way of passing timely increases in veterans health care.

“And so this bill is the test.

“Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation’s veterans and service members?

“Can we show them that - despite our differences - we will work as diligently toward getting them the benefits and care they’ve earned as they have worked for our nation?

“I hope we can.

“And I say that because the investments in this bill are a lot more than numbers on a page.

“They are life changing programs for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.

“It’s support for suicide hotlines that are seeing more callers than ever before.

“It’s providing roofs over the heads of our service members and their families.

“It’s timely investments - in the very biggest priorities of our nation’s heroes. 

“And so today I want to talk about just a few of the investments included in this bill and how they translate into the lives of our service members, veterans, and their families.

“Madam President, there is an influx of young veterans coming into the VA system right now like we have not seen in a very long time.

“In fact the VA estimates that the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in its health care system will reach well over half-a-million at some point next year – that’s an over 100% increase since 2008. 

“This is a big challenge - and one that we have no choice but to step up to meet if we are going to avoid many of the same mistakes we saw with the Vietnam generation.

“That is why this bill includes nearly $3 billion to meet the health care needs of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan - a nearly $600 million increase over last year. 

“But it’s more than just the sheer number of new veterans that will be coming home to the VA in the near future - it’s the extent of their wounds – both visible and invisible – that will require an untold resources from our nation.

“Through the wonders of modern medicine, service members who would have been lost in previous conflicts are coming home to live productive and fulfilling lives.

“But they will need a lifetime of care from the VA.

“And that’s part of why this bill includes significant investments for research in a number of areas including: Traumatic Brain Injury, spinal cord injury, polytrauma injuries, and sensory loss.

“It includes funding that will go to maintaining world-class prosthetics like the one worn by Sergeant Leroy Petry who I saw at the White House last week shake the hand of a grateful President Obama as he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

“It’s also funding that comes at a critical time as amputations have sharply increased among soldiers in Afghanistan – many of whom are getting out of protected MRAP and Humvees to engage Afghan citizens and at the same time putting themselves at far greater risk of severe IED injuries.

“According to a recent Washington Post article “twice as many U.S. soldiers wounded in battle last year required limb amputations than in either of the two previous years.”

“This funding also comes as mental health concerns continue to rise and suicides among active duty troops and veterans from these wars have risen to a level now on par with combat deaths.

“In April, the VA’s suicide hotline took 14,000 suicide calls – more than they had taken in any month the previous four years.

“This bill ensures we are putting someone on the other end of that call.

“This bill funds efforts to give veterans access to mental health professionals.

“This bill ensures we are not leaving our veterans to go it alone.

“But Madam President, this will do much more than help our newest generation of veterans.

“For generations we have faced the problem of homelessness among out nation’s veterans without making real headway.

“But recently, through the success of programs like HUD-VASH and the Grant and Per Diem program, we are seeing real progress toward putting homeless veterans into safe and secure housing and the bold goals laid out by the Obama Administration to end veterans homelessness once and for all.

“This bill includes nearly $1 billion in direct assistance to homeless veterans.

“This bill also helps those who have taken on the monumental but deeply personal task of providing care to an injured veteran in their family.

“Those people who have left behind careers, personal lives, and even their own health care and benefits to care for those who can’t care for themselves.

“It includes major investments to meet the unique needs of one of the fastest growing groups of veterans: women veterans

“Who through health care and construction upgrades that improve privacy will benefit from VA facilities that are more conducive to their needs.

“This bill also includes major investments to fund military construction projects worldwide, including: readiness centers, barracks, hospitals, clinics, and schools.

“It also supports family housing construction projects that ensure military families have a satisfactory roof over their heads.

“And will create thousands of good-paying construction jobs.

“As we all know well, the strength of our military is rooted in the strength of the families that support them.

“Investments like these are what allows service members to go abroad knowing their loved ones are being looked after by the nation they are protecting.

“Madam President, after nearly a decade at war, the consequences of sending our service members into combat and the sacred obligation we have to care for those injured in service have become clear.

“But so have the shortcomings and the challenges we have to meet.

“Last week, I chaired a hearing on the gaps in mental health care that still exist at the VA and the stories we heard were deeply frustrating.

“I heard the stories of two separate veterans who attempted suicide but were still left to wait for weeks and months for appointments at the VA.

“We have to fix the VA in a way that makes it flexible and responsive to the needs of these veterans.

“And we have to do it in a cost effective way by ensuring that we are getting the most value out of every dollar that a bill like this one provides.

“Next week I will be examining the long term costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to our newest generation of veterans because I believe we need to address this problem openly and honestly.

“Madam President, like generations of service members and veterans before them, today’s heroes have done everything that has been asked of them.

“They have been separated from their families through repeat deployments.

“They have sacrificed life and limb in combat.

“And they have done all of this selflessly and with honor to our country.

“We can’t allow our commitment to them to lapse or to get caught up in politics.

“We need to pass this bill.

“And we must also come to a budget agreement that avoids default and the consequences it would have on our veterans.

“We have to keep our promise. No matter what.

“Thank you.”