News Releases

Murray Helps Expand Veterans' Benefits

Apr 24 2008

Murray: Senate-passed Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act would provide much-needed housing and job-training assistance

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a key member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, joined the Senate in passing legislation to expand veterans’ benefits and restore limited pension benefits to Filipino veterans who fought for the United States in World War II.  

The bill passed by a vote of 96-1 after the Senate defeated a Republican amendment to deny extending benefits to the Filipino veterans.  The legislation now must be negotiated with the House in Conference Committee.  Murray said she was thrilled to see the bill approved Thursday – Republicans have held it up for nine months as a part of their efforts to obstruct progress in the Senate.

“Especially at a time when we have 150,000 service members fighting bravely in Iraq, it is imperative that we provide resources to help veterans readjust to civilian life,” Senator Murray said.  “But for nine months, Republicans have preferred to play political games with our veterans’ health and well-being.”

“This bill provides much-needed assistance as our veterans make the transition from the military back to family and jobs,” Murray added.  “I’m very happy that we were able to move past Republicans’ obstruction tactics and pass it today.”

Among other things, the Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Act expands traumatic injury insurance, increases job training, and extends housing benefits to veterans with severe burns.

Senator Murray was instrumental in including two other provisions in the bill.  One would help ensure that former POWs suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder could get health care and benefits for osteoporosis.  Studies have suggested the condition is related to PTSD.  The other would require the National Academy of Sciences to study the risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis as a result of serving in the Gulf War and subsequent conflicts.

Murray said she was also pleased that the Senate-passed bill would right a historic injustice by extending benefits to Filipino World War II veterans.  The Filipino veterans were called to service by President Roosevelt in 1941, but they were stripped of full benefits by an act of Congress in 1946.

“It is long past time that we restored benefits to these Filipino World War II veterans, who are now in their twilight years,” Murray said.  “We have a moral duty to repay their sacrifice by providing them with the care they have earned – just as we should do with all of our veterans.  Sixty-two years is too long to wait.” 

Earlier in the day, Senator Murray delivered a speech on the Senate floor to urge passage of the bill.  In the speech, she also condemned the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for purposely withholding critical information on the rising number of veteran suicides.

Internal e-mails, which became public in a court hearing, show that the VA has vastly downplayed the number of suicides and suicide attempts by veterans in the last several years.  The e-mails from the VA’s head of Mental Health, Dr. Ira Katz, show that 6,570 veterans committed suicide in 2005, a number significantly higher than the VA had publicly stated.

Senator Murray called for Dr. Katz’s resignation earlier this week.   

Senator Murray’s full remarks follow:

Mr. President, we are now five and a half years into the war in Iraq.  We have been at war longer than we fought in World War II.  And we are creating hundreds of new veterans each year.  Yet too often, this Administration has failed to acknowledge the price our veterans and their families are paying in service.  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.

And just this week, we got more evidence that the Administration has been covering up the extent of the toll this war has taken on our troops.  Internal e-mails that became public in a court hearing show that the VA has vastly downplayed the number of suicides and suicide attempts by veterans in the last several years.  Last November, an analysis by CBS News found that over 6,200 veterans had committed suicide in 2005 – an average of 17 a day.  

When confronted, VA officials said the numbers were much lower.  But according to the internal e-mails from the VA’s head of Mental Health – Dr. Ira Katz – 6,570 veterans committed suicide in 2005 – an average of 18 a day.  The e-mails also revealed that VA officials know that another 1,000 veterans – who are receiving care at VA medical facilities – attempt suicide each month.

Mr. President, these numbers offer tragic evidence that our nation is failing thousands of veterans a year.  And they reflect an Administration that has failed to own up to its responsibilities, and failed even to own up to the true impact of the war on its veterans.

The VA has a History of Lying to Congress

What is most appalling to me is that this is not the first time the VA has covered up the problems facing veterans who sacrificed for our country.  Time and again, the VA has told us one thing in public – while saying something completely different in private.  It is outrageous to me that VA officials would put public appearance ahead of people’s lives.  Yet, Mr. President, it appears that is what has happened again.  

When we – as members of Congress – sit down to determine the resources to give the VA, we must have a true picture of the needs.  And if there’s a problem, we have to act.  It’s our duty – and the duty of the Administration – to care for veterans.  By covering up the true extent of that problem, the VA has hindered our ability to get those resources to the veterans who need them.  That is irresponsible, and it’s wrong. 

Republicans Have Blocked VA Benefits for 9 Months

Now, I’ve come to the floor today because we have an opportunity to extend benefits to our veterans – benefits that offer help with job training, insurance, housing, and other matters.  This is a bill that offers veterans peace of mind – and that will help them readjust to civilian life.

Among other things, the Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Act expands traumatic injury insurance, increases job training, extends housing benefits to veterans with severe burns, and restores limited pension benefits to Filipino veterans who fought for the United States in World War II.

Mr. President, this is a bill that normally would pass straight through this body by unanimous consent. It’s budget neutral.  And it provides long-overdue care for our nation’s heroes.  But instead, it has languished for nine months because our Republican colleagues have chosen obstruction over our veterans.

The Majority Leader – and Chairman Akaka – have worked since August to try to come to an agreement.  They have tried to work out an agreement on floor time and amendments.  But for nine months, Republicans have preferred to play political games and block this bill.  And it is a part of a pattern.  

Our Republican colleagues have repeatedly stood by the Administration and dragged their feet as Democrats have pushed to ensure funding for veterans is considered a cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And they have repeatedly tried to block legislation on other American priorities – from transportation to health care.

I Hope We Can Make Progress on this Important Bill

Today, Republicans have finally agreed to move forward with this bill.  Later today we’ll have the opportunity to vote for legislation that extends important benefits to help our veterans transition back into civilian life.

The bill expands home improvement benefits to completely disabled service members – before they enter the VA system – to help them adapt their homes.  This will help prevent months – even years – of delays while they transition from the military to the VA’s care.  It extends monthly educational assistance for veterans who are pursuing an apprenticeship or on-the-job training.  It requires the National Academy of Sciences to study the risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis as a result of serving in conflicts since the Gulf War.  And it does much, much more.

I’m Disappointed Republicans Object to Giving Benefits to Filipino Vets

But, Mr. President, I am very disappointed that the Republicans object to the provision extending VA benefits to Filipino World War II veterans.  Mr. President, these – now elderly – Filipino veterans were called to service by President Roosevelt in 1941. They served alongside U.S. troops.  They fought to protect our interests in the Pacific.  They considered themselves to be American troops.  And we considered them to be part of our military.  

Mr. President, we have a moral duty to repay their sacrifice by providing them with the care they have earned – just as we should do with all of our veterans.  But in 1946, when the war was over, our nation turned our backs on them and stripped away their rights to veterans’ benefits.  That act of Congress denied them access to health care and limited other compensation to half of what their U.S. counterparts received.  Mr. President, that act of Congress was wrong.  But, Mr. President, I believe it’s just as wrong that 62 years later, we still haven’t corrected that injustice.

Republicans are saying these benefits are too generous.  Well, these veterans have been denied benefits for over 60 years.  Sixty-two years later, those veterans are in their twilight years.  They need and deserve the care they earned.  We can’t make up for lost time.  But we can right this injustice.  We have the opportunity today to do the honorable thing – the moral thing – and treat our Filipino veterans as the heroes they are.  And it’s long past time that we did. 

I Urge Support of the Full Bill

So I urge all my colleagues to support this bill in full – and to oppose the Burr substitute amendment, which would remove the provisions on Filipino veterans.  Mr. President, our veterans have already waited nine months for this bill.  And our Filipino veterans have waited more than six decades.  Our veterans earned these benefits by sacrificing for us.  They shouldn’t be forced to wait any longer.