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Murray to Rumsfeld: Caring for Veterans is a Cost of War

Feb 16 2005

Senator to introduce amendment to support veterans’ health care

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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Just one day after questioning the Veterans’ Affairs Secretary over the Administration’s deep cuts to the VA budget, U.S. Senator Patty Murray today grilled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the complete lack of funding for veterans’ health care in the Administration’s $82 billion supplemental request.



“This Administration decided to fund this war and all of its implications through supplemental requests, yet this request in front of us does not provide even one dollar for a very important cost of war, and that is the care of our heroes when they return home,” Murray told Rumsfeld.



Murray, a key member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, told Rumsfeld that providing the necessary care and resources for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is not only our responsibility, but is critical for future military recruitment and retention.



Nearly three thousand members of the Washington National Guard are scheduled to return home next month and thousands of soldiers based at Fort Lewis continue to rotate in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. These soldiers are returning to underfunded and overburdened VA facilities.



“Mr. Secretary, can you share with this committee why, when we are creating more veterans who need health care, who are coming home with tremendous costs that we have a responsibility to pay for, that they are not considered part of the costs of war?” Murray asked Rumsfeld.



Even under repeated questioning, Rumsfeld, like Secretary Nicholson a day earlier, was unable to provide answers as to why veterans are not included in the “cost of war” paid for by the Administration’s supplemental request.



In response to the lack of adequate funding to the Veterans’ Affairs budget, Murray today reiterated her intent to introduce an amendment to the Supplemental Appropriations bill to pay for veterans’ health care. Murray’s $2 billion amendment would fully fund health care services for current veterans and those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.



“In Washington state, we have 3,000 soldiers who are going to be coming home in a couple of weeks, Guard and Reserve, who are going to go into the veterans’ services….Twenty percent of these soldiers, at least, will need help for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. And we have lines today and we do not have the services for these folks…If this is a cost of war, then we should have money in the Supplemental – in the Emergency Supplemental – to take care of these veterans,” Murray said.





The full transcript of Murray’s questioning of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld follows:





Murray: And it is part of the cost of the war, I think you would agree. The cost of caring for our veterans is a cost of the war.



Rumsfeld: Oh absolutely.



Murray: The supplemental that is in front of us is to cover the cost of war, and I will tell you, there’s not one dime in it. Now, I have to tell you, I’m a member of the veterans committee, the VA secretary was in front of us yesterday, I asked him these questions, he couldn’t provide me with an answer.



When I ask you, you tell me you’re Secretary of Defense, you can’t answer me. Well, I want to know who I’m supposed to ask.



We do not have the services available to take care of our soldiers once they come home, and come out of service, and become veterans. In Washington state, we have 3000 soldiers who are going to be coming home in a couple of weeks, guard and reserve folks, who are going to go into the veterans services. I met with all of our service personnel, and with the veterans’ services. They know that they do not have the services to take care of this. They told me that 20 percent of these soldiers, at least, will need help for post-traumatic stress syndrome. And we have lines today, we do not have the services for these folks.



Mr. Chairman, I just have to say, if this is a cost of war, then we should have money in the supplemental, in the emergency supplemental, to take care of these veterans. And I am deeply disappointed by this request that it does not take care of these soldiers when they return home.



I think all of us agree that they are a part of the cost of war, and we have a responsibility to make sure they get cared for, but we also have to recognize it is part of our recruitment and retention. And if we are not taking care of these veterans when they return home it is going to be very hard in the future to care of them.



Mr. Secretary, I will let you respond, but Mr. Chairman, I want you to know that I will be offering an amendment on this supplemental when it comes before this committee for $2 billion, to care for our veterans because I do believe it’s a cost of war, I do believe it’s the responsibility of the United States Senate and Congress and I think we have an obligation to those who serve to make sure we’re there for them.