Murray Announces Victories for Washington State Veterans

Nov 19 2003

Two veterans' bills will improve access to care; help protect POW's, families of vets thanks to Murray's persistence

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The United States Senate today approved three provisions authored by Senator Patty Murray to help improve the quality of life of veterans and their families. Murray, the first woman to serve on the Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee, included the improvements in Conference agreements for two separate Veterans' bills. Both the Veterans' Health Care, Capital Asset, and Business Improvement Act of 2003 (S.1156) and the Veterans' Benefits Act (HR 2297) passed the Senate today and are expected to clear the House before being sent to the President later this week.

"Our nation needs to express its gratitude to our brave veterans and the men and women risking their lives for our country today by expanding benefits for all of those who sacrifice to protect our country," Senator Murray said. "Our veterans deserve the gratitude of our nation, not further hurdles when they return home."

Thanks to Senator Murray, specific language was inserted within the Veterans' Health Care, Capital Asset, and Business Improvement Act requiring the Veterans' Administration (VA) to develop a plan for meeting the future hospital care needs of veterans residing in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Kittitas, and Okanogan counties.

Veterans living in these rural regions of Washington state often have to travel extremely long distances to see a physician and obtain basic care. Currently, veterans in North Central Washington are expected to travel more than 150 miles to either Seattle or Spokane just to access basic health care services.

Murray's legislation further directs the Secretary to either:

  • Establish a VA hospital locally; or Enter into contracts with existing federal facilities, private facilities, or private providers for that care.

  • Murray's provision would require the VA to come up with a plan to serve the veterans population of North Central Washington locally, with well-trained medical staff providing basic health and diagnostic services. Medical experts would also make referrals to other appropriate medical facilities.

"Our veterans fought hard to ensure our freedom, they should not have to fight to get adequate health care," Murray said. "This legislation will help veterans in the underserved communities of North Central Washington get the care and attention they deserve."

The Senate also approved two provisions that Murray included within the Veterans' Benefits Act to help protect veterans and their families.

The first Murray provision eliminates the current federal requirement that POWs must have been held for a minimum of 30 days in order to qualify for POW benefits. Under current guidelines, the POWs of Operation Iraqi Freedom would not qualify for benefits.

"I am proud that the Congress is doing the right thing and overturning a policy that punished POWs," Murray said. "The current policy sends a terrible message to the men and women of our armed forces. Our veterans deserve the gratitude of our nation, not further hurdles when they return home."

The Conference agreement also included Murray's provision to provide the entire amount of accrued benefits to the families of deceased veterans. Murray's provision overturns current law under which family members are only entitled to a maximum retroactive award of two years of a veteran's accrued benefits regardless of the total award owed to that veteran at the time of his or her death.

"My dad was a World War II veteran and I know how important these benefits are for veterans and their families," Murray said. "I am proud that Congress has followed my lead and expanded these important benefits. By expanding benefits for former POW's and the families of our veterans we will correct a glaring injustice and reaffirm our commitment to our veterans and to our men and women in uniform."

Senator Murray is an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. She has been honored as Legislator of the Year by the Vietnam Veterans of America, and earlier this year the American Ex-Prisoners of War bestowed her with the organization's highest legislative award, the Barbed Wire Award.

More information on Senator Murray's support of Veterans