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Watch Video - Listen to Murray's Veterans Day Statement

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – In a Veterans Day speech today on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) urged President Bush and her Senate colleagues to reaffirm their commitment to our veterans by making it a priority to provide for their care.  Murray reminded them about the hurdles these heroes have faced when they return home, and she detailed how the Administration and Congress can improve the treatment of veterans.

“It is simply unacceptable that our heroes have had to fight their own government for treatment they need,” said Senator Murray.  “As we approach Veterans Day, I urge us all – especially the President – to reaffirm our commitment to our veterans by providing the money, the attention, and the leadership they deserve.” 

Murray said the Administration has failed to account for veterans as a cost of war.  She explained that it can improve care by addressing problems in three key areas:

  • Mental Health – The VA must ensure the mental health needs of veterans are met, especially by raising the awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and combat-related stresses.  It also must hire more counselors to help treat veterans struggling with the legacy of war.
  • Access to Benefits – The VA must clear the backlog of claims so that veterans can get care in a timely – and fair – way.  In particular, the President needs to sign legislation to ensure that the Department of Defense and the VA are working with the same disability rating system and that records aren’t lost between the two systems.
  • Adequate Funding – We must provide enough money so that our veterans get the quality care they deserve.  Senator Murray urged the President to sign a VA and military construction funding bill supported by nearly all of the Senate.  The bill would provide almost $4 billion above the President’s request that would take important steps to improve care.

“The Administration has ignored these problems for too long.  But the Democratic-controlled Congress has taken action,” said Senator Murray.  “President Bush has been more than willing to use our veterans as props as he argues in favor of his misguided war policies.  Now it’s time to turn that lip service into reality and give our veterans the care they need and deserve.  They are a cost of war that we simply can’t ignore.”   

The full text of Senator Murray's floor remarks on Veterans’ Day follows:

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about something that has been a priority for me and many of my colleagues – our veterans.

Sunday is Veterans Day – a day designated for us to thank our nation’s heroes for their service to our country. 

It’s also a time to ask whether our country has done enough to repay our veterans for all they have given to secure our safety.

As thousands return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – some from their fifth tour of duty – I wish I could say the answer to this question is, ‘Yes.’

But tragically, this issue has not been a priority for this Administration.  We have too often failed to provide the care our heroes have earned.  From the shameful conditions at Walter Reed and VA facilities around the country, to a lack of mental health counselors, to a benefit claims backlog of months and sometimes years, our veterans have had to struggle to get basic care.

Mr. President, fighting overseas takes a tremendous toll on the lives of our troops and their families.  It is simply unacceptable that our heroes have had to fight their own government for treatment they need.

So today I want to remind my colleagues – and President Bush – about the hurdles our veterans have faced.  And as we approach Veterans’ Day, I urge us all – especially the President – to reaffirm our commitment to our veterans, by providing the money, the attention, and the leadership they deserve.

Importance of VA Care

Mr. President, I know from personal experience how military service affects veterans and their families – and how the wounds veterans suffer from their military service can shape their lives forever. 

As a volunteer at the VA, I learned how some veterans can slip through the cracks.

But the experience also taught me that the doctors and nurses there are dedicated to caring for their patients.  It convinced me that the VA system – not private medicine – is where our veterans can get the best care.

Our VA system is uniquely positioned to recognize and treat the specialized injuries, medical conditions, and mental health challenges caused by combat and military missions. 

Private medicine doesn’t always have the knowledge base or resources to deal with these unique problems.

It’s one reason I will continue to fight for better access to the VA that allows our veterans to get the care they need without endless waits and red tape. 

Rather than kicking our veterans into yet another maze of processing and paperwork, we should work to provide better access to one of the best health care systems in the country. 

Veterans are Sometimes Reluctant to Seek Care

I also know from experience in my own family that veterans are sometimes reluctant to seek care or attention. 

My father was one of the first G.I.s to land on Okinawa during World War II.  He earned the Purple Heart and returned home disabled. 

My family is enormously proud of my dad and his service.  But like many of his generation, he didn’t talk about his experiences.  In fact, we only really learned his story by reading his journals after he passed away.

This Illustrates a Larger Lesson About Veterans

Mr. President, these two experiences in my life also illustrate a larger lesson that applies to many veterans.  Often, they don’t want to call attention to their service.  And sometimes, they are suffering so much, they can’t even ask for the help they need.

That’s why we need a VA system ready and able to care for veterans of all wars. 

But five years into this war, the VA is still struggling to provide some basic services.  And it still took President Bush months to announce his nominee to head the beleaguered system. 

The President’s lack of leadership on this critical appointment mirrors his Administration’s lack of focus on the needs of aging veterans of previous conflicts.  It underscores his failure to count our veterans as a cost of this war.

And just this week, Mr. President, we learned that 2007 will go down as the deadliest year of the war in Iraq.  Our hearts go out to the families of the nearly 4,000 brave Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war – and to the tens of thousands more who have returned with physical and mental wounds.

Shining a Light on Mental Illness

Mr. President, the physical wounds our veterans have suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan are horrible.  But I have worked especially hard as a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to shine a light on the mental wounds our veterans are suffering in this war. 

These wounds run just as deep – and can be just as devastating – as physical injuries.  And this problem just isn’t getting the attention it deserves from the Administration.

Our troops are under great strain.  In the past, we were always able to give our service members a break to allow them to recover from physical, psychological, and emotional demands.  Now, some are serving for their third, fourth, and even fifth tours of duty.  All of this increases the likelihood they will suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health conditions.

According to the VA’s own numbers, fully one-third of all returning Iraq veterans will suffer from a mental health condition.  That’s an astounding statistic.  But it’s also probably too low because many veterans are still afraid to seek care. 

Earlier this year, I spoke with National Guard members at Camp Murray who told me that they don’t want to be labeled with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury because they are afraid it would hurt their careers.

One soldier told me that to be labeled with mental trauma, “jeopardizes their lives outside of the service.”

Clearly, the Administration must focus on changing this perception.

Ensuring Access to Care

We also must ensure that when our service members decide to seek care, they don’t have to struggle to navigate the system alone in order to get the treatment they need.

But so far, that’s not the case.

Just last year, a VA official revealed that some clinics don’t provide mental health or substance abuse care.  Or if they do, “waiting lists render that care virtually inaccessible.”

At a hearing on this issue that I held recently in Tacoma, Washington, Dan Purcell – an Iraq veteran – summed up the frustration felt by so many of the service members I have spoken to.

He said that he felt like he was being “treated as a tool that could be casually discarded when broken or found to be no longer useful.”

Ensuring VA Benefits Aren’t Cut Short

It’s shameful that our veterans across the country are forced to fight to get mental health care.

But others struggle to see even a regular doctor.  They are forced to wait months – even years – to get their claims processed.

Across the country, veterans with the same health problems are given different ratings and different benefits.

And in 2003, the Administration closed the door to VA health care for new Priority 8 veterans.

Some veterans say it sometimes feels like the VA is fighting them instead of fighting for them.

That is unconscionable.

When the Iraq war ends, the news fades, and the conflict becomes just a page in history, we want to be sure our commitment to veterans doesn’t fade along with it.

Three Steps to Overcome These Problems

So, Mr. President, how do we overcome these problems?

Fortunately, there are three clear areas where we can improve:

  • First, we must ensure that the mental health needs of veterans are met.  The VA needs to raise awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and combat-related stresses.  It also must hire more counselors to help treat everyone – from the 20-year-old veteran returning from Iraq, to the Vietnam veteran still struggling with the legacy of war.
  • Next, the VA must clear the backlog of claims so that veterans can get care in a timely – and fair – way.  The President needs to sign legislation to ensure that the Department of Defense and the VA are working with the same disability rating system and that records aren’t lost between the two systems.
  • And most importantly, we must provide enough money so that our veterans get the quality care they deserve.

The Senate has approved a bill that provides almost $4 billion above the President’s request that would take important steps to improve care.  It would:

  • Improve conditions at VA facilities across the country.
  • Invest in new ways to treat military ailments like PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury,
  • And it would fund better prosthetics for thousands of troops who have lost limbs in battle.

 The Administration has ignored these problems for too long.  But the Democratic-controlled Congress has taken action.

So now I’m urging the President to support this critical funding increase, and prove his commitment to our veterans. 

Veterans are a Cost of War We Can’t Ignore

Mr. President, our men and women in uniform have answered the President’s call to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan without hesitation or complaint.

They have left loved ones for years and put their lives on the line. 

Some have come home without limbs.  Others have returned with mental scars.  Many – thankfully – have escaped without injury.  But all of them have earned our respect and the best care possible when they come home.

And if we don’t care for our service members now, we risk weakening our military for decades to come.

President Bush has been more than willing to use our veterans as props as he argues in favor of his misguided war policies.  Now it’s time to turn that lip service into reality and give our veterans the care they need and deserve.

We owe it to our country to ensure that we are there to support our service members, our veterans, and their families every step of the way.

They are a cost of war that we simply can’t ignore.