Murray Works to Improve Veterans' Health Care in North Central Washington

Nov 17 2003

Legislation requires VA to provide basic medical services to state’s most underserved regions; Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Kittitas, and Okanogan counties to benefit

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) inserted a provision within the Veterans' Health Care, Capital Asset, and Business Improvement Act of 2003 (S.1156) to help improve veterans' healthcare in Washington state's rural areas. Murray's legislation will particularly benefit underserved communities in North Central Washington.

The original bill required the Veterans' Administration (VA) to report back to Congress within 120 days with a plan of action to improve access to health care for veterans residing in rural areas. Murray, however, inserted specific legislative language requiring the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs to develop a plan for meeting the future hospital care needs of veterans residing in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Kittitas, and Okanogan counties.

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.

"Our veterans fought hard to ensure our freedom and it is unconscionable that they must also fight to get adequate health care," Senator Murray said. "This legislation will help veterans in the underserved communities of North Central Washington get the care and attention they deserve."

Senator 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.

The bill is expected to be approved by both the Senate and House of Representatives later this week.

Murray's legislation follows her efforts last year to create a pilot project providing basic medical services to veterans in the state's most underserved areas.

Veterans living in 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.

"This legislation is an important step towards addressing our veterans' healthcare needs. I will continue to work on the Veterans' Affairs committee to seek long-term solutions to the serious issue of quality, affordable healthcare for our veterans."

Senator Murray, whose father was a veteran of World War II, is the first women to serve on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. She 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.