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(Yakima, WA) Tonight, U.S. Senator Patty Murray was named "Person of the Year" by the Washington State Veterans of Foreign Wars at the group's annual conference in Yakima. The Senator was recognized by more than 500 veterans for her leadership in saving VA hospitals in Walla Walla, Tacoma and Vancouver from being closed by the Bush Administration and for her advocacy for Washington state veterans.

Murray, the daughter of disabled World War II veteran, is the first woman to serve on the Senate's Veterans Affairs Committee, a position she has used to increase funding and support for Washington's nearly 700,000 veterans.

At the awards dinner at the Yakima Convention Center, Murray gave a speech and also presented honors to VFW leaders from around the state. In her remarks, she thanked Washington's veterans for their service.

"Because of your sacrifice, my grandson is growing up – free and safe – in the greatest country in world," Murray said. "Because of your service, America is the brightest light of freedom and the strongest pillar of democracy on our planet. Because of your commitment, hose who are serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan know that we will fight for them as they have fought for us. And because of your dedication, we are one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

Murray also paid tribute to the more than 22,000 Washington state soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, who "are risking their lives under hostile fire in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe. Tonight, these soldiers and their families are in our hearts and prayers," Murray said.

From an Volunteer at the Seattle VA to a National Leader for Veterans

Senator Murray told about her own experience during college, when she left Washington State University for a semester and moved to Seattle so she could volunteer at the Seattle Veterans Hospital. There, she worked with young men who had returned from Vietnam with deep psychological wounds. Murray noted that, as an intern back then, she could not do much to affect the conditions facing Washington's veterans, "But today I can."

"When I was a volunteer at the Seattle VA Hospital, I didn't have the power to help veterans with their VA claims. But today I do," she said. "That's why I have three members of my staff who are dedicated to helping Washington veterans get answers and assistance from the VA. And when I was a volunteer at the Seattle VA all those years ago, I could not stand on the Senate floor and vote for the funding our troops and veterans need. But today I can. That's why I voted for the $87 billion to support our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's why I'm working to increase survivor benefits. And it's why I'm fighting to make VA healthcare funding mandatory so that your healthcare is never a victim of budget games."

She also talked about her success forcing the VA to open a new healthcare clinic in Central Washington by 2006 and her ongoing commitment to veterans healthcare in Walla Walla, which she helped save through her hearing and advocacy. (Timeline)

Finally, the Senator encouraged veterans to tell their families about their own military service, something Murray's own father did not talk about.

"Like many veterans, my dad never talked about his military service. In fact, we only got the full story after he died by reading the journal he left for us. I wish my dad had talked to us about his time in the war," Murray said. "So tonight I want to encourage each of you to share your stories with your children and grandchildren. They deserve to know how you fought for their freedom."

Senator Murray's full remarks follow:

Thank you, Commander Fry, for that introduction. But more importantly, thank you for your strong leadership on behalf of Washington's veterans. Whenever a veteran or survivor needed something, you were the first person to roll up your sleeves and make it happen. You've worked with everyone, you've built coalitions, and you've never shied away from a fight. Your hard work helped save the VA hospital in Walla Walla, and you are a great example of the spirit and determination of the VFW.

I also want to welcome your national officer, Tom Kissell, to our state. Tom, you don't have to spend a lot of time with the people in this room to know why we are so proud of them here in Washington state.

VFW members, post commanders, and members of the auxiliary: In this room tonight, we are surrounded by heroes. People who sacrificed for our country. People who endured injuries to keep America safe. And people who gave their blood, sweat, and tears to keep us free.

We're also surrounded by the memories of friends and family members who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country. To me, what is most remarkable about the heroes in this room – the heroes of the VFW – is that they don't seek recognition, or credit or reward. In fact, VFW members are so committed to protecting today's soldiers, veterans, and survivors that you often don't get the credit you deserve – and that's why I'm here tonight.

I wanted to come and help give out some awards so that you'll know that everyone in Washington state is grateful for your service. Because of your sacrifice, my grandson is growing up – free and safe – in the greatest country in world. Because of your service, America is the brightest light of freedom and the strongest pillar of democracy on our planet. Because of your commitment, hose who are serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan know that we will fight for them as they have fought for us. And because of your dedication, we are one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

We all know that Washington families are making a tremendous commitment to winning the War on Terror. Tonight, more than 22,000 Washington state soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are risking their lives under hostile fire in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe. Tonight, these soldiers and their families are in our hearts and prayers.

For me, veterans' issues have always been a very personal mission. Like many of you, my dad served in World War II. He was among the first GI's to land at Okinawa. He was injured, sent to a military hospital in Hawaii, and then sent back out to the front. When he came home, he was disabled. And later, when he couldn't work any more, my mom cared for him, held a job, and raised my six brothers and sisters and I. Like many veterans, my dad never talked about his military service. In fact, we only got the full story after he died by reading the journal he left for us. I wish my dad had talked to us about his time in the war.

So tonight I want to encourage each of you to share your stories with your children and grandchildren. They deserve to know how you fought for their freedom.

I will never forget my father's pride at serving our country. It’s one of the reasons why, when I was in college at WSU, I asked to do an internship at the VA hospital in Seattle. 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.

As a 22-year-old intern at the VA, there were a lot of things I could not do. I was not a doctor or a nurse. I could not write prescriptions or heal their wounds. Back then, I didn't have the power to make sure they got the benefits they'd been promised. Back then, I couldn't make sure that all our veterans got the funding they deserved.

But today I can. As the first woman to serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I've been proud to stand up with VFW members –to save VA hospitals in our state, and to fight for the funding and support you have earned. When I was a volunteer at the Seattle VA Hospital, I didn't have the power to help veterans with their VA claims.

But today I do. That's why I have three members of my staff who are dedicated to helping Washington veterans get answers and assistance from the VA. And when I was a volunteer at the Seattle VA all those years ago, I could not stand on the Senate floor and vote for the funding our troops and veterans need.

But today I can. That's why I voted for the $87 billion to support our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's why I'm working to increase survivor benefits. And it's why I'm fighting to make VA healthcare funding mandatory – so that your healthcare is never a victim of budget games.

Back then I couldn't force the VA to increase care to under-served veterans in Central Washington. But today I can, and in 2006 a new VA healthcare clinic will open its doors in Central Washington.

Back then, I couldn't stop politicians in Washington, D.C. from shutting down three of our VA hospitals. But today, I can, and with your help that's exactly what we did. Together, we stopped the politicians from closing our hospitals in Tacoma, in Vancouver and in Walla Walla. And I'm staying on that fight to make we have a plan to protect our veterans in Walla Walla and in North Central Washington. You gave me the opportunity to stand up for veterans across America and to make sure they are taken care of.

Next year, I’m in line to become the Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and then Washington VFW members will have the power and the voice to finally get the support that our veterans deserve.

So tonight, let's celebrate. Let's honor the men and women of the VFW who have truly earned our respect. Let's recognize the leaders who have stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves. And let's keep the promise the President Abraham Lincoln made nearly 140 years ago, “to care for the veteran who has borne the battle, his widow and his orphan.”

That's what the men and women of the VFW and the auxiliary do everyday. God bless you all.