Senator Murray and Veteran Leaders Say "Don't Shortchange America's Veterans" in Fiscal Year 2006 Veterans Healthcare Budget

Nov 09 2005

As House-Senate Committee Sets Funding Level, Senator Murray Warns that Any Cuts Will Hurt America's Veterans

(Washington, D.C.) – Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) joined with officials from six national veterans organizations to urge House and Senate negotiators to keep the Senate's funding level as they develop the final VA healthcare budget for Fiscal Year 2006.

“I am very worried about the direction Congress is headed when it comes to veterans healthcare funding," Murray said. "I am sounding the alarm that I – and veterans across the country – are watching what's happening, and we expect the House and Senate to keep their commitment to America's veterans. We are about to celebrate Veterans Day, a day that honors the bravery and sacrifices made by service men and women. It would be a great disservice to so many of our country’s veterans if this Congress provides less than adequate funding to serve its veterans."

Senator Murray led a six-month effort to boost VA funding, which resulted in an additional $1.5 billion for veterans healthcare in late July. Now Murray is working to ensure that the funding she secured is not cut in conference negotiations.

Members of the House and Senate are trying to reconcile two different budgets for veterans healthcare. The Senate appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2006 provides $23.308 billion for VA medical services. The House budget, however, provides over $2 billion less ($20.995 billion). The House budget was passed before a funding shortfall at the VA was discovered this summer. Senator Murray and veteran leaders said the higher Senate figure more accurately represents the VA's needs and should be the number in the final bill that emerges from conference negotiations. Murray is a member of that conference committee. Tomorrow, Senator Murray will question VA Secretary Jim Nicholson at a VA hearing.

Senator Murray spoke on a conference call today with representatives from six national Veterans Service Organizations (VSO): the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Military Officers Association of America, Blinded Veterans Association, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Murray, a key member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the daughter of a disabled World War II veteran, assured the leaders that as Veteran’s Day approaches, she will continue to fight to ensure that Congress keeps its healthcare promises to those who protect our country.

"Let me be clear: Any dollar below the Senate's level of is a dollar taken away from a veteran," Murray said. "It means a VA clinic that won’t be constructed. It means a VA doctor who won’t be hired. It means a veteran who doesn’t get the care that America promised upon their enlistment."

Murray also raised her concern that VA maybe be diverting medical care dollars to pay for Hurricane Katrina-related efforts, and Murray urged the Bush Administration to send Congress a realistic budget for Fiscal Year 2007.

Representatives from VSOs thanked Senator Murray for her support and outlined the need for adequate veterans funding.

“The 2006 budget must be at a level to ensure that the VA can serve not only those veterans waiting in line at the VA today, but also the new era of veterans we create every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Said Peter Gayton, Deputy Director for Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, The American Legion.

“We believe the Senate’s numbers are where we need to be, and we’re going to do everything we can to ensure that they stay there,” said Joe Violante, National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans.

“The Senate prescribed funding level for the VA must be stuck with. Just as all of the additional $1.5 billion was needed in 2005, the Senate level for health care funding in 2006 is required as well,” said Dennis Cullinan, National Legislative Service Director, Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“Today we’ve got something like 500,000 new guard and reserve veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and more are in the pipeline every single day. We don’t think the VA has been including cost estimates for their care, and that’s a gross oversight. They are veterans when they come back, even as they continue to serve,” said Bob Norton, Deputy Director of Government Relations, Military Officers Association of America.

“The VA claims there are only 34 soldiers who have been blinded in Iraq. I recently spoke with doctors at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center], who say that number is way too low, and we could be looking at 100-150 soldiers that will need blind rehabilitative services from the VA. If the system isn’t adequately funded, we won’t be able to meet the needs these young soldiers have,” said Tom Zampieri, Director of Governmental Relations, Blinded Veterans Association.

“We live within the bounds of a very complicated process between budget and appropriations. As the process unfolds, the VA never really knows how much its going to get, or when it will get that appropriation. A hospital director can’t hire a new doctor or nurse, or replace medical equipment, because he’s waiting on Congress to get the job done. That’s one of the reasons all of our organizations have joined together to say that this process is broken,” said Richard Fuller, Legislative Director, Paralyzed Veterans of America.”