News Releases

Murray Sends Letter to President Asking Him to Address VA Shortfall in Tuesday Address to Nation

Jun 27 2005

Senators urge Bush to ‘provide a full accounting’ of the cost of caring for our veterans

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – At a press conference with local and state veterans’ leaders in Seattle today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced a letter that will be signed by her Democratic Senate colleagues calling on President Bush to tell the American people how he plans to make up for a $1 billion VA shortfall when he addresses the nation about our efforts in Iraq on Tuesday night.



“It angers me that this Administration continues to deny the costs of this war. It angers me that they don’t seem to believe that caring for our veterans is a fundamental cost of war. That’s why today I am sending a letter to the President asking him to come clean with the American people about the true costs of fulfilling our promise to our veterans,” Murray said at the press conference.



The Department of Veterans affairs announced last week that they are facing a $1 billion health care funding shortfall for fiscal year 2005. The announcement came just two weeks after VA Secretary Jim Nicholson assured Senator Murray that he saw no need for additional funding and only two months after the administration vehemently argued against the need for more money - raising loud, consistent objections to Senator Murray’s efforts to increase funding for the VA.



In their letter to President Bush, Murray and her Democratic colleagues write:



“Mr. President, we urge you to provide the American people with a full accounting of the cost of these conflicts, including the cost of caring for our veterans upon their return home, during your Tuesday evening address. We ask that you directly share with the nation how your administration will make up the VA's current FY 2005 budget shortfall of $1 billion, as well as the looming shortfall projected for the future. And, we stand ready to work with you to pass an emergency spending bill to address this shortfall before the July 4th Congressional recess.”





Immediately following the VA’s announcement last Thursday, Senator Murray introduced legislation to pay for the funding shortfall through an emergency spending package.



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Full text of the letter to President Bush and Senator Murray’s remarks at today’s press conference follow:



June 27, 2005



The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500




Mr. President:



As you prepare for your Tuesday evening address to the nation regarding our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, we urge you to take this opportunity to level with the American people about a major cost of these conflicts - the care of our nation's veterans.



As of January 2005, over 1 million U.S. troops have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 3 and one half years. The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) annual mid-year budget review confirmed that many of these soldiers have returned home and are beginning to access the VA health care system in record numbers, placing increased demands on an already overburdened agency. Many of us saw a looming crisis and sought to take steps that would avert it.



With the recent announcement that the VA is facing a shortfall of approximately $1 billion in fiscal year 2005 it seems that our concerns are well founded. Unfortunately, the VA's current shortfall, and larger shortfalls predicted for future years, has confirmed that your Administration has not prudently addressed the budget impacts of these conflicts. We urge you to do so now. Only by confronting this problem head-on can we ensure that our veterans receive the support and healthcare they were both promised and deserve.



Adjusted for inflation, the VA is spending 25-percent less per patient than it did in fiscal year 2000. Some veterans have to wait over three years to have surgery. And some VA hospitals are only seeing veterans who have more than a 50-percent service-connected disability. The evidence that the VA cannot function under your proposed budgets and needs immediate relief to provide veterans access to quality health care continues to mount.



War is costly. This is a lesson we all know personally. As Senators we have dealt with legislation authorizing the use of military force, we have worked on spending bills to support our troops, and we have talked to the families of those who have lost loved ones. We also know that failing to provide for the men and women who have sacrificed for our freedom is wrong.



In a September 7, 2003 speech to the nation you stated, "the heaviest burdens in our war on terror fall, as always, on the men and women of our Armed Forces and our intelligence services. They have removed gathering threats to America and our friends, and this nation takes great pride in their incredible achievements. We are grateful for their skill and courage, and for their acts of decency, which have shown America's character to the world. We honor the sacrifice of their families."



Mr. President, we urge you to provide the American people with a full accounting of the cost of these conflicts, including the cost of caring for our veterans upon their return home, during your Tuesday evening address. We ask that you directly share with the nation how your administration will make up the VA's current FY 2005 budget shortfall of $1 billion, as well as the looming shortfall projected for the future. And, we stand ready to work with you to pass an emergency spending bill to address this shortfall before the July 4th Congressional recess.



Sincerely,



Senator Patty Murray



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Murray’s Remarks at Seattle press conference:



Thank you all for coming out today to help raise awareness of what deserves to be a national priority – taking care of our veterans. I want to thank:

  • The AFGE


  • The National Association of Black Veterans


  • The Paralyzed Veterans of America and


  • The American Legion for their presence here today.


We are here today to call on the Bush Administration and Congress to step up their commitment to our veterans. I am calling on President Bush to tell the American people how he plans to address the recently announced $1 billion shortfall for the VA and reconfirm our promise to those who have served us by supporting them when they return home.



Let me tell you why taking care of our veterans is so near to my heart.



For me, it’s very personal. During World War II, my dad was one of the first G.I.’s to land on Okinawa. He was injured, sent to a hospital in Hawaii, and then immediately sent back to Okinawa. He was awarded the Purple Heart.



And when I was in college at WSU, I asked to do my internship at the Seattle VA hospital – the very same one right behind us here today. I moved from Pullman to Seattle for the semester, rented a room, and spent my days in the psychiatric ward, working with veterans coming back from Vietnam. It was hard to watch what these young men my age were going through. On the street, a lot of people did not respect them. But inside the VA, I saw doctors, nurses, receptionists, and cafeteria workers who looked them in the eye, understood what they had gone through, showed them respect, and worked to help them heal.



Caring for the veterans who have sacrificed for our freedom is the duty of a grateful nation. These brave men and women made a solemn promise to protect our country.



Our reciprocal promise is to care for them when they return home. That is why I find last week’s admission by the VA that they will need an estimated $1 billion more in emergency funding just to get through fiscal year 2005 appalling.



Unfortunately, this Administration has been unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to fulfill the promises we have made to our veterans.



When I was fighting to get my veterans' healthcare amendment passed a few months ago, I warned that the VA was headed for a train wreck if we did not address their critical funding needs.



And do you know what this Administration told me?



They told me they didn’t need any extra funding. They told me they had the resources to provide quality, timely care to current veterans while also caring for new veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.



Well, I’d like to know what data they were looking at.



I’ve been to veterans’ hospitals and clinics across our state and I know that the waits are long and that doctors are working overtime to see as many patients as possible. And I know that at American Lake you can only get an appointment if you are 50 percent or more service-connected disabled. In the Puget Sound alone – as of January – there was an $11 million deficit, forcing the VA hospitals to leave vacant positions unfilled and veterans waiting in lines.



I introduced an amendment in April to increase funding for our veterans by nearly $2 billion based on these observations and based on a draft of the VA’s OWN mid-year review. Those are the exact same numbers the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, Jim Nicholson was looking at when he sent a letter to Congress, that said, quote:



“I can assure you that VA does not need emergency supplemental funds in FY2005 to continue to provide timely, quality service that is always our goal.” End quote.



Just two months ago this administration vehemently argued against the need for more money - raising loud, consistent objections to my efforts. And now, just two weeks after the Secretary told me their budget was fine, the VA is announcing that they are $1 billion dollars short. That's outrageous.



It angers me that this Administration continues to deny the costs of this war. It angers me that they don’t seem to believe that caring for our veterans is a fundamental cost of war.



That’s why today I am sending a letter to the President asking him to come clean with the American people about the true costs of fulfilling our promise to our veterans. I am asking that tomorrow night, when the President addresses the nation about the status of our efforts in Iraq, that he tells us what we need to do to provide our veterans with the care they need and how he plans to address the $1 billion shortfall.



We have asked these brave men and women to sacrifice for our freedom and it is shameful that this Administration has refused to make them a priority.



Every indication is that we simply do not have enough funding for our current services, and the VA is finding it difficult to handle the increased number of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan while still providing high levels of service to other veterans. This is not right. It is not what veterans were promised.



I have reintroduced my legislation to provide emergency supplemental funding for the VA to make up for their shortfall.



I urge the Administration to submit a supplemental request and fulfill the promise to our nation’s veterans.



I very much regret that it has come to this. But now is the time to come together and provide the needed dollars so that our veterans have the quality, accessible care they need and deserve. I will work with anyone and everyone to keep this commitment to our veterans and our current service men and women.



Taking care of our veterans is a fundamental cost of war – and this is a problem we can not postpone or sweep under the rug.



Caring for our veterans is not a Republican or Democratic issue, it’s an American issue. As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July, I call on Congress and the Administration to work with me to do the most patriotic thing we can do – fulfill our promise to care for America’s veterans.