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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, on the floor of the Senate, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called for passage of the Caregiver and Veterans Omnibus Health bill. On the eve of Veterans Day, Murray called for a Republican U.S. Senator to relinquish his hold on the bill which includes Senator Murray’s legislation to improve care for women veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The following is the full text of Senator Murray’s speech:

Fort Hood

Mr. President, before I discuss Veterans Day and the important veterans’ health bill we are working to pass here in the Senate - I want to first say a few things about the tragic events that unfolded at Fort Hood last week.

As a Senator from a state with a very large military presence and communities that are heavily populated with the men and women who dedicate their lives to protecting our country, I was particularly saddened by the senseless violence that ripped through our nation’s largest active-duty base last Thursday.

As anyone who has ever spent time on a U.S. military base knows well, these are some of the safest and most compassionate communities in our entire country. They are the places where a young family plants roots, raises a child, and establishes a life for themselves. Where military spouses form bonds that carry them through long deployments, and where neighbors always lend a hand to those in need.

I have seen this first hand at places like Fort Lewis Army base in Tacoma and Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. And I know that the pain of the loss of these 13 public servants extends to everyone at Fort Hood and to the U.S. military community as a whole.

I also want to make special mention of Michael Grant Cahill who hailed from Spokane, Washington and who was the lone civilian killed in the attack. Michael was a physician’s assistant who worked in rural clinics and veterans’ hospitals - places where our veterans desperately need care and we desperately need workers.

At the time of his death he was just four years from retirement. In an interview with the Spokesman Review newspaper just one day after her father was killed. Cahill’s daughter Keely told the paper that her dad was “A wonderful person” and that he “loved his job and that he loved working with people and helping them with their physical needs.”

My thoughts and prayers are with Keely, the family members of all those who died and were wounded, and the U.S. military family who are all still reeling from this tragedy.

Veterans Day

Mr. President, as we all know, Veterans Day is a day to celebrate and honor the great sacrifices our veterans have made. It is because of their sacrifice that we can safely enjoy the freedoms our great country offers.

It is because of their unmatched commitment that America can remain a beacon for democracy and freedom throughout the world.

Growing up, I saw firsthand the many ways that military service can affect both veterans and their families. My father served in World War II and was among the first soldiers to land on Okinawa. He came home as a disabled veteran and was awarded the Purple Heart.

Like many soldiers of his generation, my father did not talk about his experiences during the war. In fact, we only really learned about them by reading his journals after he passed away. And I think that experience offers a larger lesson about veterans in general. They are reluctant to call attention to their service, and they are reluctant to ask for help.

That's why we've got to publicly recognize their sacrifices and contributions. It's up to us to make sure that they get the recognition they have earned and not just on Veterans Day.

Our veterans held up their end of the deal, now we must hold up ours. So Veterans Day must not only be a day of remembrance, it must also be a day of reflection. It is a chance for us to reflect on our own responsibilities to our nation’s veterans.
 
A chance to look at what we can do to ensure that we are keeping the promise we make to our men and women when they sign up to serve.

A chance to take stock of where care and benefits have fallen short, where new needs are emerging, and how we can make it easier for veterans to get the care and benefits they deserve.

So it is very appropriate that on the eve of this important day we are working to pass a bill that takes a hard look at many of the challenges facing our veterans.
 
A bill that is the product of collaboration with veterans, their families, their caregivers and scores of veterans service organizations.

As a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am keenly aware that we have a lot of work to do for the men and women who have served.
 
Not only must we continually strive to keep up our commitment to veterans from all wars – but we must also respond to the new and different issues facing veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan – wars being fought under conditions very different from those of the past. And that is precisely what the Caregiver and Veterans Omnibus Health bill aims to do.
 
Women Veterans

Mr. President, one of the changes we have seen in our veterans’ population recently is the growing number of women veterans seeking care at the VA.

Today more women are serving in our military than ever before - and over the next five years, the amount of women seeking care at the VA is expected to double. And not only are women answering the call to serve at unprecedented levels, they are also often serving in a very different capacity.
 
In Iraq and Afghanistan we have seen wars that don’t have traditional front lines - therefore all of our service members – including women - find themselves on the front lines.
 
Whether it is working at checkpoints, helping to search and clear neighborhoods,
or supporting supply convoys – women service members face many of the same risks from IEDs and ambushes as their male counterparts.
 
But while the nature of their service has changed, the VA has been slow to change the nature of the care they provide when these women return home.

Today, at the VA there is an insufficient number of doctor’s and staff with specific training and experience in women’s health issues, and even the VA’s own internal studies have shown that women veterans are under-served.

That is why included in this veterans health bill - is a bill that I have introduced that will enable the VA to better understand, and ultimately treat, the unique needs of female veterans.

My bill authorizes several new programs and studies, including a comprehensive look at the barriers women currently face in accessing care through the VA, a study of women that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan to assess how those conflicts have affected their health, a requirement that that the VA implement a program to train, educate, and certify VA mental health professionals to care for women with sexual trauma, and a pilot program that provides child care to women veterans that seek mental health care services at the VA.

Mr. President, this bill is the result of many discussions with women veterans on the unique and very personal problems they face returning home from war. Often times, after veterans meetings in which male veterans would speak freely about where they felt the VA was not meeting their needs - women veterans would approach me and whisper about the challenges they faced.

Some of these women told me they didn’t even view themselves as veterans and therefore had not thought of seeking care at the VA. Other times they told me how the lack of privacy at their local VA felt intimidating. Or how being forced into a care-giving role prevented them from seeking care – as they would often have to struggle to find a babysitter just in order to keep an appointment.

To me, and to the bi-partisan group of Senators who have co-sponsored my women veterans bill these barriers to care are unacceptable. As more women begin to transition home, and step back into their careers and their lives as mothers and wives the VA must be there for them. This bill will help the VA modernize to meet their needs.

Caregivers

Mr. President, another way this bill meets the changing needs of our veterans is in the area of assisting caregivers in the home.

As we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, medical advances have helped save the lives of service members who in previous conflicts would have perished from the severity of their wounds. But these medical miracles also mean that many of those who have been catastrophically wounded need round the clock care when they return home.

And in many rural areas where access to health care services is limited, the burden of providing care often falls on the families of severely injured veterans. For these family members providing care to their loved ones becomes a full-time job.

They often have to quit their current jobs - forfeiting not only their source of income but also their own health care insurance. It is a sacrifice that is far too great – especially for families that have already sacrificed so much. That is why this bill will provide these caregivers with health care, counseling, support and a stipend.

Other Provisions

Mr. President, this bill also takes steps to pProvide dental insurance to veterans, survivors and their dependents; improve mental health care services and ease the transition from active duty to civilian life; expand outreach and technology to provide better care to veterans in rural areas, and initiates three programs to address homelessness among veterans at this especially difficult economic time.

We Cannot Delay

It is a bill that is supported by numerous veterans service organizations, the VA, and many leading medical groups.

It was passed in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee with broad bipartisan support after hearings with health care experts, VA officials, veterans, and their families.

Like other omnibus veterans health care bills before it – bills that have often passed on this floor with overwhelming support – it puts veterans before politics. It is a bi-partisan bill designed to move swiftly - so its programs are implemented swiftly. A bi-partisan bill designed to ensure that our veterans do not become political pawns.

And yet today we still face delay…

Mr. President, the fact that this bill is being held hostage by ideology is both a disservice to our veterans and a troubling precedent for our future efforts to address their needs.

Providing for our veterans used to be one area where political affiliation fell by the wayside.

But today, because of an effort to score political points on issues that are far removed from the struggles of families delivering care for their loved ones with severe injuries, or women veterans returning to an underprepared VA, or the mounting toll of this economy on homeless veterans - we are faced with delay.

And for our nation’s veterans it is another delay they can’t afford.

Mr. President, our aging veterans and the brave men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan need our help now.

And how we treat them at this critical time will send a signal to a generation of young people who may be considering military service.

It is imperative that we keep our promise to veterans – the same promise Abraham Lincoln made to America’s veterans 140 years ago - “to care for the veteran who has borne the battle, his widow and his orphan,”

Our veterans have waited long enough for many of the improvements in this bill.

We can’t ask them to wait any longer.

I urge my colleague to withdraw his objection to consideration of this bill and for us to move quickly to pass this legislation.

I yield the floor.