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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a key member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today stood up for unemployment benefits for our nation’s veterans. Murray, whose own father was a disabled WWII veteran, and who has held roundtables across Washington state to discuss employment options for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, questioned the Administration’s efforts to force disabled veterans off of unemployment benefits and back into the workplace.

“I believe in providing employment services to disabled Americans. But the states can’t provide services for these individuals, and the applicable jobs are few and far between. I question any effort to force more disabled veterans off IU and into the workplace, when we have not worked to fund the services they need, or to help create the jobs they are fit for,” Murray said at a hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.




In Washington state, disabled individuals have a 70 percent unemployment rate and 14,000 people are waiting for vocational rehabilitation. Any suggestion of forcing disabled veterans to seek employment instead of Individual Unemployability benefit (IU), means forcing them to compete with thousands of disabled Americans.

“Let me be clear that I oppose any effort to increase the scrutiny of our veterans' claims – solely to save money – especially when chances are that veterans more than 70% disabled will likely find it very difficult to get and keep employment,” Murray said.




A full transcript of Murray’s remarks at today’s Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing follows:



Thank you Mr. Chairman. I would like to thank you and Ranking Member Akaka for hosting today’s hearing on this issue. And I also want to thank both of our panels for being here today.



Mr. Chairman, I am very concerned about the need to provide employment services to veterans. But there are some veterans who – because of their injuries – are simply unable to work. We need to ensure that we are taking care of them in the most effective way possible, as well.



In general, I do not believe the system is broken – we are providing the Individual Unemployability benefit we promised our severely disabled veterans. But I do believe it is essential we ensure that veterans receiving – or in process of receiving – IU have access to medical and employment services.



Mr. Chairman, I am concerned that an effort to increase the scrutiny we put severely disabled veterans under will increase the stigma on veterans trying to access the resources they were promised. This will hurt our veterans.



I also worry that it will demand increasing the VA’s discretionary budget by substantial amounts with little known or quantifiable benefit. As you know, we are here today to talk about veterans who have been granted IU benefits because their disabilities were categorized, after much scrutiny, at 70 percent or above.



This means that, beyond physical injuries that prevent them from participating in many activities, they could have trouble with mental health issues such as suicidal thoughts, problems with speech, near-continuous panic or depression, impaired impulse control, and difficulty in adapting to stressful environments.



To mandate new screenings and work endlessly to get veterans with a 70 percent disability rating to work seems unnecessarily burdensome for our disabled veterans. As much as I wish I could sit here and say they will easily work again, I think reality has shown us it is a constant and severe struggle.



Mr. Chairman, I believe in providing employment services to disabled Americans. But the states can’t provide services for these individuals, and the applicable jobs are few and far between. I question any effort to force more disabled veterans off IU and into the workplace, when we have not worked to fund the services they need, or to help create the jobs they are fit for.



In my state of Washington, disabled individuals have a 70% unemployment rate, and I suspect that is close to the national average. 14,000 people are waiting for vocational rehabilitation. When we talk about trying to force disabled veterans to seek employment instead of IU, we are talking about forcing them to compete with thousands of disabled Americans.



Let me be clear that I oppose any effort to increase the scrutiny of our veterans' claims – solely to save money – especially when chances are that veterans more than 70% disabled will likely find it very difficult to get and keep employment.



For example, the proposed review of 72,000 IU PTSD cases has already increased the stigma surrounding PTSD. And on top of the 800,000 other cases the VBA needs to review this year, these cases will drain limited resources and delay benefits to thousands of veterans. Any review sets a dangerous precedent and increases the stigma against our veterans, and will drain limited VBA resources.



In fact, one veteran in New Mexico has tragically committed suicide due to the review. Mr. Chairman, I would like to enter into the record an article about Greg Morris, a Vietnam Veteran who killed himself last week. The article states:

“On Oct. 8, Greg Morris, 57, was found by his wife, Ginger, in their home in Chama, N.M. For years, Morris had been receiving monthly V.A. benefits in compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder. Next to his gun and Purple Heart was a folder of information on how the V.A. planned to review veterans who received PTSD checks to make sure those veterans really deserved the money.”


The scrutiny needs to stop. This Committee needs to have a clear understanding of what the VA will get out of any effort to look harder at benefits before moving forward with any effort.

Last week, I hosted a hearing of the Employment & Workplace Safety Subcommittee on “Enhancing Cooperation between Employers and Guardsmen/Reservists.” That hearing highlighted the vital need to increase resources for our Guard and Reserve to help them access employment after their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of looking for ways to strip severely disabled veterans' benefits, this committee needs to examine how to this Committee should have a full hearing on USERRA, TAP, Labor Vets and other programs.



We should also analyze why the system is failing our Guard and Reserve and other veterans. Although I think efforts need to be made to provide veterans with employment assistance, I believe we should direct our focus to those who are more likely to find employment.



Mr. Chairman, you and I have often discussed the limited budget under which we operate today. And I am concerned about any proposals being put forth today that would demand increased funding to try and get veterans with 70% disability fully employed.



I wish we could make that happen, but after 13 years working on these issues, I think it is fair to say – as much as we hate to say it – that some square pegs don’t fit into the round hole no matter how hard you push. And, in the meantime, we have thousands of recent Iraq veterans we are not trying to help get employment.



What are we doing to improve services for them? Why are we focusing on stripping benefits from disabled veterans when we have thousands of Iraq vets needing our help now?



And why – if we are concerned about the increased number of veterans getting IU – are we not working harder with thousands of OIF and OEF veterans who are coming back home everyday and having trouble transitioning back to civilian life?



These are the questions I leave the Committee with today – and I think our nation's veterans deserve an answer. Thank you Mr. Chairman.”