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Veterans' Day: Senator Murray Asks "Are We Keeping Our Promise?"

Nov 10 2005

At a Press Conference and in a Senate Floor Speech, Murray Calls for More Healthcare Funding, PTSD Treatment and Guard and Reserve Services

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(Washington, D.C.) – On the eve of Veterans' Day, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) spoke at a press conference and on the Senate floor to honor America's veterans and to ask if our nation is keeping its promise to those who have served.



"When these brave men and women signed up to serve our country, we agreed to take care of them. They kept their part of the bargain. Now we need to keep ours," Murray said.



Standing with veterans and fellow Democratic members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Murray spoke about the challenges veterans face in accessing healthcare, the way the VA is treating veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the need to update transition and support services for Guard and Reserve members.



Murray also warned that House and Senate negotiators must not reduce the VA healthcare funding she secured in the Senate this summer, a point Murray also made yesterday with six national Veterans Service Organizations.



Senator Murray's remark on the Senate floor follow:



"Mr. President, tomorrow our country will celebrate Veterans' Day. We will honor the service and sacrifice that so many Americans have made to keep all of us safe and free.



Tomorrow in Washington State



Tomorrow in Washington state I'm going to join with local veterans at a breakfast for the Compass Center, which provides services to homeless veterans, a "Service of Remembrance" at the Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park in Seattle, and with a visit to the Washington Soldiers Home in Pierce County. I'm looking forward to those visits and the chance to share my thanks with those to those who have sacrificed.



Veterans' Day Is Not Just a Ceremonial Holiday



But Veterans' Day is not just a ceremonial holiday. It's not just an occasion to thank others for what they have done for us. It's also a time to ask if we have done enough for those who served our country. And that's a very timely question today with so many new veterans coming home everyday from places like Iraq and Afghanistan and with an aging veterans population that needs more care.



Are We Keeping the Promise?



So today I want to ask –

  • Are we keeping our promise to those who have served our country?


  • Do our policies and budgets reflect the great debt that we owe to so many veterans?


I want to try and answer that question by looking at: how we treat veterans who need healthcare, how we budget for their needs, and how we treat our Guard and Reserve members.



What We Owe Our Veterans



First, we all recognize that we have an obligation to those who serve us. When they signed up to serve our country, we agreed to take care of them. They kept their part of the bargain. Now we need to keep ours.



Washington State Sacrifices



Washington state has made a tremendous contribution to the war effort. I am sad to report that 102 service members from Washington state have made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation. They have earned a place of eternal honor in roll call of freedom.

We owe them and their families a debt that can never be fully paid.



Many others veterans have come home with serious injuries – both visible and invisible -- and they need our help as well.



Today, more than 6,500 Washington state citizens are serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Since 2001, more than 1 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, about 20,000 have been from Washington state.



My Visit to Iraq



In March, I traveled to Iraq and Kuwait. I met with members of the Washington National Guard who are serving our country. I saw firsthand that they were all operating under tremendously difficult and dangerous conditions. I also saw how every person was professional and fully committed to completing their mission.



We need "do right" by everyone who serves us because we made a promise and because it keeps our military strong.



How We Treat Veterans Affects Recruitment



The way we treat our veterans today affects our ability to recruit new soldiers tomorrow. But don't take my word for it. Listen to what George Washington said. Quote:



"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country."



Those are the words of George Washington, and they are just as true today as when he said them. So let's look at how well we're keeping our promise – starting with healthcare.



VA Healthcare



We can all be proud that the VA provides some of the best healthcare available anywhere in America. We have a great healthcare system in the VA, but we don't fund it like a priority.

Every year it's a struggle to get Congress to provide the funding that is needed. That's why I believe we need to make veterans healthcare spending mandatory – so it is not subject to budget games every year.



This year, we had a big fight to make sure veterans don't lose healthcare. Starting in February I began warning that the lines were growing at the VA and that we needed to do more. I pointed to the many veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan who needed care.



Three times I offered amendments to boost VA funding, but they were voted down every time. For months, the VA and the Administration assured us that everything was fine. But then in June, we learned that VA was facing a massive shortfall of $1 billion. So once again I introduced a bill to provide $1.5 billion in supplemental VA funding, and this time it passed.



Now, the House and Senate are in negotiations to set the final veterans healthcare budget for Fiscal Year 2006. I am very concerned that we will not provide enough so funding, so yesterday, I joined with leaders from six national Veterans Service Organizations to send a message. Together, we said that we are watching, and we expect the House and Senate to keep their commitment to America's veterans.



Any dollar below the Senate's level of is a dollar taken away from a veteran. It's a VA clinic that is not constructed. It's a VA doctor who is not hired. It's a veteran who doesn’t get the care America promised upon their enlistment. We can't leave veterans without care, so we need to stick with the Senate budget in the final appropriations bill.



PTSD



I'm also concerned about how we treat those who need help with challenges like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Instead of focusing on getting help to those who need it, the VA is moving to scrutinize and stigmatize veterans with PTSD. That's why I worked with Senators Durbin and Obama to put language in the Senate VA bill that requires the VA to explain its plan to Congress and to hold veterans harmless except in cases of fraud. Those protections need to stay in the final bill that emerges from conference.



As I think about the way we treat veterans healthcare, it's clear that we need two more things.



First, the VA must provide an accurate accounting of how it's spending the money we've provided, and it needs to give us a clear picture of the needs it is seeing throughout the country.



Second, the Bush Administration needs to start sending us realistic budgets. No gimmicks. No games. Send us a 2007 budget that is based on the real numbers and the real needs. Send us a budget that takes care of both our aging veterans and our veterans of the current operations. So when I look at our budget and our priorities, I know we've got a lot more work to do keep our promise to America's veterans.



Guard and Reserve



Another area that concerns me is how we're treating our Guard and Reserve members – especially when they come home from the battlefront. In this war, we are relying on our Guard and Reserve so heavily. It's estimated that 40 percent of those on the ground in Iraq are citizen soldiers.



Unfortunately, the support services for the Guard have not kept pace with the way we're relying on them today. They often don't have access to employment services, job training, family support, and healthcare.



This summer I held a series of roundtables throughout Washington state. I heard from Guard and Reserve members who couldn't find a doctor who accepts Tri-Care. I heard about reservists who returned home and just fell through the cracks without the payments or support they were promised. And I heard about veterans who could not find a job when they came home.



Our transition services are left over from the Cold War. They do not work for a military that today relies on Guard and Reserve members. I fear that this Administration is moving the cost of war onto the businesses and families of our Guard members. I believe they are already sacrificing enough. To do our part, we must update transition and employment service we provide to returning Guard and Reserve members.



Conclusion



So Mr. President, as I evaluate the way we're treating our veterans, one thing is clear. America's military personnel are providing the highest level of service to our country, but we've got some work to do to make sure our support of them when they come home is equal to the service they've provided. Mr. President, I am committed to keeping the promise our country has made, and I ask for the support and leadership of every member of the United States Senate. We owe our veterans nothing less."