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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) today that she will hold up the confirmation of a federal Department of Veterans Affairs' official until the Department releases a congressionally-mandated plan to provide healthcare for 26,000 underserved veterans in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Kittitas and Okanogan counties.



In a letter to SVAC Chairman Arlen Specter and Ranking Member Bob Graham, Murray announced that she is placing a hold on the President's nominee to be the VA's Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs as a result of the department's failure to meet a deadline to develop a plan to either open a veterans' hospital in North Central Washington or to provide health care services through contracts with local health care providers.



"These veterans have been waiting far too long to get access to healthcare. Now the VA is making them wait even longer. I can't tolerate that. Therefore, I will place a hold on Ms. Iovino's nomination unless, or until, I receive the VA's plan to serve the veterans in this area," Murray wrote to Specter and Graham.



Murray, the daughter of a World War II veteran and first woman ever to serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has been working for years to help veterans in North Central Washington.

Two years ago, in June 2002, the SVAC passed Murray’s amendment to improve access to care for veterans in NC Washington. Unfortunately, the House and Senate were unable to come to an agreement on the Veterans' bill, so Murray's amendment never became law.



Murray resumed her fight last year, when, as a senior member of the SVAC, she inserted a provision into the Veterans' Health Care, Capital Asset, and Business Improvement Act of 2003 during conference that required the VA to "develop a plan for meeting the future hospital care needs of veterans who reside in North Central Washington" by April 15th, 2004. The bill passed the Senate November 19, 2003 and was signed into law by the president December 6, 2003. When Murray saw the VA failed to meet the congressionally-required mandate she wrote to SVAC leaders and put a hold on the nominee.



Murray's letter follows:



April 22, 2004

The Honorable Arlen Specter
Chairman
U.S. Senate Committee of Veterans' Affairs
Office Building, Room 412
Washington, DC 20510



The Honorable Bob Graham
Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee of Veterans' Affairs
Office Building, Room 412
Washington, DC 20510


Dear Mr. Chairman and Senator Graham:

Due to the Department of Veterans' Affairs apparent disregard for the law and intent of Congress when it comes to veterans' healthcare, I am writing to inform you that I intend to place a hold on the President’s nominee to be the VA's Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs, Ms. Pamela Iovino.

I am doing this to send a clear signal to the VA that Washington's veterans cannot wait any longer for the healthcare they have earned.

As you know from our committee hearings, I have been working for years to get the VA to improve health care access for veterans in Washington state's most underserved areas. Last year, with your support, we passed a law requiring the VA to develop a plan to either open a veterans' hospital in North Central Washington or to provide health care services through contracts with local health care providers. The bill we passed, which was signed into law by the President, required the VA to issue its report by April 15, 2004. But, the VA has missed its legally mandated deadline and recently told my staff the report would not be available for another month.

The VA's indifference toward this issue is particularly troubling to me and the veterans in North Central Washington state. These veterans have been waiting far too long to get access to healthcare. Now the VA is making them wait even longer. I can't tolerate that. Therefore, I will place a hold on Ms. Iovino's nomination unless, or until, I receive the VA's plan to serve the veterans in this area.

As always, I thank you for your continued leadership in serving our nation’s veterans.

Sincerely,

Patty Murray
United States Senator


CC: The Honorable Anthony Principi, Secretary of Veterans' Affairs

The Veterans’ Health Care, Capital Asset, and Business Improvement Act of 2003 (S. 1156), was signed into law by President Bush on December 6, 2003 (PL108-170: Subtitle D, Section 231)