Murray Passes Legislation Protecting Veterans' Access to Healthcare

Jul 20 2004

Amendment to Veterans Bill Will Prevent Any Changes to Walla Walla, Other Washington Veterans Facilities

(Washington, DC) -- The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today adopted an amendment from Senator Patty Murray that assures Congressional review of any proposed VA Hospital changes before they take affect. The amendment, which Murray offered at a meeting of the Committee, requires the VA to provide notice, and require consent of the Congress, before any VA healthcare facility has its mission changed significantly.

Washington State's VA facilities in Tacoma (American Lake), Vancouver and Walla Walla, which appeared on the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) closure list, were removed earlier this year due to Senator Murray's work and influence on the Senate Committee.

In the wake of the VA's initiative, veterans across the country have faced continued uncertainty for access to VA healthcare services. While Senator Murray saved the Walla Walla VA from closure, the facility has been required to undergo another study, to be completed in early 2005. Today's action guarantees that Congress will review and approve any future moves to change the mission of that or any other facility.

"My amendment provides Congress the oversight necessary to ensure all future decisions affecting VA facility missions are open to public comment and review and in the best interest of the veterans and the communities we represent," Murray said. "After months of hard work, we were successful in saving three Washington state hospitals this year. I hope we never face that type of crisis again, but today's action ensures Congress the authority it needs to ensure the long-term well-being of our facilities and our veterans."

The Murray amendment requires the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs to provide written notice of the reasons supporting the mission change, including:

  • An assessment of the impact closure will have on the population of veterans served by the facility;

  • The availability and quality of alternate healthcare in the region including long-term care, mental health services and substance abuse programs;

  • Any economic impact the mission change would have on the community in which the VA healthcare facility is located; and

  • An analysis of alternatives provided by the local community, veterans' service organizations and the VA, including groups representing local VA employees.

The overall legislation must now be reconciled with House legislation and pass both houses.

"At my VA field hearing in Walla Walla, I saw first hand that the VA had not fully considered the impact the proposed closure would have on the community and local vets. Today's move will ensure that never happens again," Murray said.

Murray, the daughter of a World War II veteran, is the first woman to serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee and represents Washington State's 670,000 veterans.