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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray was joined by the National Commander of the American Legion John A. Brieden III, military veterans serving in the House and Senate and veterans’ advocates to call on the Bush Administration to support America's veterans. The Administration has requested $87 billion in additional funds to support military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has continued to under-fund services for veterans and their families here at home.

"With a new generation of combat veterans deployed around the world, the federal government must gladly meet its obligations to veterans rather than look away in favor of tax cuts and other priorities," Senator Murray said. "In return for their sacrifice, our veterans deserve the respect and support of a grateful nation."

Murray, who is the first woman to serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and whose father won a Purple Heart in World War II, urged the Administration to restore confidence in the Capital Assets Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission. Under the Administration's guidance CARES plans to close, reconfigure, and consolidate veterans' health care services across the country.

In July 2003, the VA rejected the recommendation of local leadership and directed its regional office to study the closure of three veterans' facilities in Washington state. Similar guidance went out across the country.

"I am very concerned that the VA has turned the CARES process into a cost-cutting mechanism that has lost sight of the individual veteran," Murray said. "It is up to the Administration to act to restore confidence in the CARES process. Our veterans deserve nothing less."

Murray and her colleagues also called for an end to the disabled veterans' tax, improved services as VA hospitals, expanded health care for members of the National Guard and Reserves and their families through TriCare, and an expansion of the child tax credit.

Senator Murray and Senate and House veterans were joined by representatives from the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Blind Veterans Association, Gold Star Wives, and Military Order of the Purple Heart.

The full text of Senator Murray's statement follows:

I am proud to be in the company of so many distinguished veterans.

My interest in Veterans issues comes from growing up as the daughter of a World War II combat veteran, who earned the Purple Heart while fighting in Okinawa. In college, I volunteered at the Seattle Veterans' Hospital, where most of the patients were young men my age who had returned from Vietnam.

I appreciate the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform. In return for their sacrifice, our veterans deserve the respect and support of a grateful nation.

The other speakers have each raised valid concerns and I hope the Congress and the Administration will quickly address these issues. I have worked to provide additional funding for VA healthcare. I am a long time cosponsor of concurrent receipt legislation. And my state has a large retiree population that relies upon TriCare.

With a new generation of combat veterans deployed around the world, the federal government must gladly meet its obligations to veterans rather than look away in favor of tax cuts and other priorities.

I want to address another serious issue for Veterans in my state and across the country. The CARES Commission, which stands for Capital Assets Realignment for Enhanced Services, now has a plan before it to close, reconfigure, and consolidate veterans' health care delivery across the country. I am very concerned that VA has turned the CARES process into a cost-cutting mechanism that has lost sight of the individual veteran. Democrats and Republican have criticized the VA's handling of the CARES process, which may result in recommendations to reduce veterans' access to health care by the end of this calendar year.



In July, less than two weeks before issuing a draft report, the VA rejected the recommendation of the regional leadership and directed the regional office to study the closure of three facilities in Washington state. Similar guidance went out to other states just days before a draft report was issued and forwarded by the Secretary to the CARES Commission.

Furthermore, the CARES process is not considering the needs for long-term care. With an aging veterans' population, it is irresponsible to fail to account for long-term care in evaluating the VA's health care delivery system. In my own state, the VA wants to close a nursing home facility in a community where the availability of long term care is already close to a crisis situation.



And while the CARES Commission is looking to close facilities, it paints a rosy picture of new facilities and new investments in veterans' health care. But all of the new investments called for in the draft report rely upon future budget requests. There is no authority or funding in the CARES process to build new clinics and hospitals.



America's veterans are faced with a false choice. Close facilities in the short term on the promise of a new and improved delivery system. Veterans are suspicious. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are suspicious. And it is up to the Administration to act to restore confidence to the CARES process.



Our veterans deserve nothing less.