News Releases

EASTERN WASHINGTON: Murray Presses Top VA Officials on Spokane Medical Center, Walla Walla Vets Home

Mar 12 2014

Murray: “You told me there was no evidence that any medical center would be unable to provide the care we expect. Unless your view has changed, Spokane’s assessment seems to disagree.”



Murray: “How are we going to ensure that we’ve got the funds for state veterans homes like Walla Walla?”

(Washington, D.C.)—Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC), pressed U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Under Secretary for Health Robert Petzel on continuing issues at the Spokane VA Medical Center, including understaffing and budget shortfalls, and critically needed federal funding for the planned Walla Walla State Veterans Home.

“The Spokane medical center recently prepared a draft response to questions from the network about their budget.  They talk about the significant challenges of declining budgets, numerous staffing vacancies, and, leading the network in new veteran patients,” said Senator Murray. “I want to ask you what you and the network are going to do to get Spokane the resources that they do need?”

“I am concerned about the future of the Walla Walla State Veterans Home, especially because the budget request proposes reducing funding for state veterans homes grants.  These veterans have been waiting a long time for this facility, and we have more than a thousand veterans who need care,” said Senator Murray.  “So I want to ask whether the system is correctly prioritizing state home projects – do we have enough flexibility?  And how are we going to ensure that we’ve got the funds for state veterans homes like Walla Walla?”

Full text of the exchange below:

SPOKANE VA MEDICAL CENTER

Sen. Murray:  

“Secretary Shinseki, several times we have discussed my concerns about getting medical centers the resources they need to provide top-quality care for our veterans.

“The Spokane Medical Center recently prepared a draft response to questions from the network about their budget.  They talk about the significant challenges of declining budgets, of numerous staffing vacancies, and, leading the network in new veteran patients.

“And they said, and I’ll quote it: ‘Overall, senior management is very aware of the budget shortfall and is taking actions to limit the deficit.  However, most actions will significantly limit staffing levels and access to care.  These actions will have – and have had – a significant negative impact on morale and will drive some dissatisfaction amongst patients.’

“Dr. Petzel, I asked you about a similar budget problem at Indianapolis at the hearing on the 2012 budget, and you told me there was no evidence that any medical center would be unable to provide the care we expect.  Unless your view has changed, Spokane’s assessment seems to disagree.

“I want to ask you what you and the network are going to do to get Spokane the resources that they do need?”

Asst. Sec. Petzel:

“Senator Murray, thank you. I am assuming that that’s some employee’s assessment of the situation, it’s not the senior leadership’s assessment of the situation.”

Sen Murray:

“It is the senior leadership’s assessment.”

Asst. Sec. Petzel:

“I am not aware of this. We do believe, and the budget was distributed back in October, and at that time, there was a consensus of the network directors and the facility directors that they had sufficient funds.”

Sen. Murray:  

The questions were asked to them by the VISN, and they responded back, so it was the senior leadership at Spokane VA Center, saying very clearly they do not have the dollars to be able to do the duties that they need.”

Asst. Sec. Petzel:

“I will have to go back and talk with both the network and with Spokane. This is information that is new to me.”

Sen. Murray:

“OK, well, their draft response also calls for a discussion about the mission of the medical center. 

“It asks if they will remain a full service medical center, and whether programs and services should be eliminated.  That is deeply concerning to me.

Are there any plans to reduce services at the Spokane medical center?”

Sec. Shinseki:

“We have no plans to do so.”

Sen. Murray:

“I need you to follow up on that and let me know what’s happening that they are facing such a budget shortfall, and it was very clear in the documents that we’ve seen that they are facing an extreme budget shortfall that is hampering their ability to care for the veterans in that region.”

Asst. Sec. Petzel:

“We will follow up.”

WALLA WALLA STATE VETERANS HOME

Sen. Murray:

“I also wanted to ask both of you about the Walla Walla State Veterans Home. As you know, I’m very concerned about that, especially because the budget request proposes reducing funding for state veterans homes grants.

“These veterans have been waiting a very long time for this facility, and we have more than a thousand veterans who need care. 

“So I want to ask whether the system is correctly prioritizing state home projects – do we have enough flexibility?

“And how are we going to ensure that we’ve got the funds for state veterans homes like Walla Walla?”

Asst. Sec. Petzel:

“Senator Murray, you and I have discussed on numerous occasions the Walla Walla State Veterans’ Home, and I share your angst about that particular project. 

“We are looking at whether there is a solution that will allow us to use the 2014 money in order to accomplish that construction but we’re not finished looking at what the alternatives are.

“Obviously after we’ve done that, and discussed it with the Secretary, we will get back to you.”

Sen. Murray:

“We need to know where that’s going, and overall, not just that one, but all of them, how are we going to deal with these veterans homes with declining budgets?

“I think that as members of Congress, we need to know what the need is and then we need to figure out how to fund it rather than just being told everything’s OK. I want to know specifically about Walla Walla, what we’re going to do, but also the funding in general.”