Murray Urges Support for Veterans at Press Conference on Veterans Day

Nov 11 2003

Murray Joins Senators Leahy, Stabenow and Landrieu in Pressing for Critical Veterans Priorities

PHOTO: Honoring Our Nation's Veterans

"Today is a day we honor the sacrifice of the men and women who served in America's armed forces.

Today, there will be patriotic speeches and lots of talk about service, sacrifice, commitment and country, but there probably won't be a lot of talk about the long waits our veterans must endure to see a doctor.

Or that disabled veterans must give back one dollar of disability compensation for every dollar they have earned in retirement benefits.

Or that the Department of Veterans' Affairs is examining how to – "reconfigure" veterans' healthcare delivery and may close medical facilities.

But these are just a few realities facing our veterans here at home.

I have the honor of being the first woman to serve on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. My father was a disabled World War II veteran, who earned the Purple Heart as one of the first G.I.'s to land on Okinawa. As a senior in college, I interned at the VA hospital in Seattle, helping to treat soldiers my age who were returning home from Vietnam. These experiences helped shape my commitment to veterans and my belief that we can never forget their service and their sacrifice.

But right now we're not doing enough for our veterans. Consider:

Today, 80,000 veterans must wait six months or more just to get an appointment at a VA hospital, and that number is growing.

Funding for veterans' health care is subjected to an annual debate in Congress over how much we should provide.

At the same time, the Department of Veterans' Affairs is looking to "reconfigure" veterans' health care and is now studying the closure of two VA facilities in Washington state.

At a time when we are sending the next generation of veterans into combat in Iraq, we should not be shrinking from our responsibilities to care for veterans after they come home.

But the House of Representatives provided nearly $2 billion less for veterans' health care than had been promised in this year's budget. I have worked with colleagues on both sides to restore the House's cut, and I hope we will succeed in the final days of this session. But this episode illustrates the need to shield veterans' health care funding from the changing priorities of politicians.

That's why I support the Veterans' Health Care Funding Guarantee Act, which would make veteran' health care funding mandatory. This legislation would end annual fights in Congress about how much healthcare to provide year-to-year. It would be an automatic priority for our nation.

Meanwhile, we must also make sure that the Department of Veterans Affairs does not close critical medical facilities at a time when more are seeking VA healthcare. Unfortunately, that is just what's happening.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has started an initiative to "restructure" VA healthcare for the future, known as the CARES process. While the goal may be noble, the CARES process now appears to be an effort to simply close facilities.

In July, the VA headquarters in Washington, D.C. directed its regional office in Washington state to study the closure of health care facilities in my state. This would force veterans to travel even farther to seek the medical care they need and deserve. This is the wrong message to send to America's current and future veterans.

America is fighting a war on terrorism. No one can predict how long it will last. But we do know that more soldiers will be called to duty, and that today's soldiers are tomorrow's veterans. Before our young people answer the call to serve their country, they must know that they will be protected when they return.

With a new generation of combat veterans deployed around the world, the federal government must meet its obligations to veterans rather than look away in favor of other priorities. And we are here to remind our colleagues that supporting our troops is a commitment not for one day or for one conflict, but for all our soldiers, both while they are serving and after they return home."