News Releases

VETERANS: Senator Murray Cautions VA Secretary Against Proposing Change to Handling of Insurance Claims

Mar 10 2009

While praising Administration's overall budget, Murray warns that any proposal to bill veterans' private insurance companies for treatment of service-related injuries would meet with stiff resistance

Listen to Senator Murray’s opening statement.

Listen to Senator Murray question Secretary Shinseki.

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) warned Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki against including any proposal that would require the VA to bill veterans’ private insurers for the treatment of wounds and conditions sustained as a result of their military service. Currently, the VA covers those costs, and bills veterans’ private insurance only for treatments unrelated to a veterans’ military service.  While Senator Murray has been supportive of the Obama Administration’s budget outline for Fiscal Year 2010, she has made clear that this plan, which is currently under Administration consideration, would be met with opposition in the Senate.

“While there is much to commend in this budget, I do want to express my concern about a rumored proposal that would supposedly allow the VA to bill a veteran’s insurance company for service-connected disabilities and injuries.” Senator Murray said at today’s hearing. “I believe that veterans with service-connected injuries have already paid by putting their lives on the line for our safety. When our troops are injured while serving this country, we should take care of those injuries completely.  We shouldn’t nickel and dime them with their care.  While no such proposal has been formally made, I can assure you that it will be dead on arrival in this Congress if it is proposed.“

Senator Murray had previously discussed her opposition to this proposal with Secretary Shinseki in a phone call last Friday. Senator Murray believes that changing the insurance billing plan would place an undue burden on veterans and could discourage employers from hiring disabled veterans because it could raise employer premiums. 

Senator Murray’s full opening statement follows:

Mr. Chairman, Senator Burr, thank you very much for holding today’s hearing to examine the proposed Fiscal Year 2010 VA Budget.  I want to extend a warm welcome to the representatives from the veterans’ service organizations.  Each year, you put an incredible amount of time and hard work into producing your own budget estimates and policy recommendations, and all of us on this Committee appreciate them very much. 

I would also like to extend a warm welcome to Secretary Shinseki.  As I said at your confirmation hearing, you have one of the most challenging, and rewarding, positions in our government.  Modernizing the VA into a 21st century organization is no easy task.  Among other things, we need to improve access to, and our understanding of, mental healthcare; improve the seamless transition process; fix the disability claims backlog; leverage information technology to improve the delivery of services to veterans; and prepare the VA to care for the increasing number of female veterans in the system.

By themselves, each of these tasks is difficult.  Together, they are even more complicated.  But given your impeccable credentials and your history of taking on big problems and defeating them, I have faith in you, Mr. Secretary.

Now, while many of the details of the president’s proposed budget remain unknown, the initial information provided about the Fiscal Year 2010 VA budget suggests that the VA will be in good shape in the coming year.  I am pleased that the Obama Administration includes funding to make progress in critical areas of care for our veterans.

And as the lead sponsor of the Women Veterans Healthcare Improvements Act, I am especially glad to see that the budget will enable the VA to provide additional specialty care for female veterans.  Women now make up 14 percent of our active duty forces, and they represent one of the fastest-growing groups coming to the VA for health care.  Preparing the VA to care for the unique needs of women veterans will be a very important task in the days and months ahead, and I appreciate that this budget recognizes this new reality.

I am also pleased that the budget provides funding to bring more than 500,000 Priority 8 veterans back into the VA system by 2013.  As you know, I introduced legislation in the 110th Congress to overturn the Bush Administration’s 2003 ban on enrollment of new Priority 8 veterans because I believe that all veterans should be able to get the care they earned.  While we have made progress on this issue since then, I look forward to working with the VA to work responsibly to make Priority 8 veterans eligible for VA care once again. 

Additionally, I want to commend you for including in your budget a pilot program to combat homelessness by providing stable housing to for vets at risk of falling into homelessness.
Last year, I chaired an Appropriations subcommittee hearing about the challenge of addressing the needs of homeless veterans.  An official from the VA testified at the hearing that “the best strategy with this new generation of veterans is to . . . reach them very early.”

In order to start addressing those needs, I included funding for a similar pilot program in the FY 09 Transportation Housing Appropriations bill, which I am hopeful we will pass to President Obama very soon.  The program would establish a demonstration program, and it directs HUD to work with the VA and the Department of Labor to test different strategies to prevent veterans from becoming homeless.

Finally, while there is much to commend in this budget, I do want to express my concern about a rumored proposal that would supposedly allow the VA to bill a veteran’s insurance company for service-connected disabilities and injuries.  I believe that veterans with service-connected injuries have already paid by putting their lives on the line for our safety.  When our troops are injured while serving this country, we should take care of those injuries completely.  We shouldn’t nickel and dime them with their care.  While no such proposal has been formally made, I can assure you that it will be dead on arrival in this Congress if it is proposed.

Mr. Chairman, when we send our men and women to war, we make a promise to them that they will be taken care of when they return.  Too often in our nation’s history, this promise has not been kept.  But by providing the VA with sufficient funding to continue its critical mission, we can go a long way in terms of meeting our obligations.  While we don’t have a lot of details yet – and I will reserve final judgment until I see the full document – I think this budget is a good starting point for Secretary Shinseki to begin to transform the VA into a truly 21st century organization.  And I look forward to working with him and with the rest of my colleagues on this committee to make that vision a reality.