News Releases

Murray Declares Victory in Her Fight to Fund Veterans' Healthcare

Jul 29 2005

Senate passes $1.5 billion in funding to close VA shortfall for FY05

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a member of the Senate Appropriations and Veterans Affairs committees, today declared victory in her months-long fight to provide $1.5 billion in funding to the Veterans Administration (VA) to pay for veterans' healthcare.

The funding will close a fiscal year 2005 shortfall that was announced by the VA over a month ago, and that seriously imperiled VA's ability to provide care for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I am gratified – and relieved – that we have been able to get VA the funding it needs to care for the brave men and women who have sacrificed for our freedom," Murray said. "I've been saying for months that taking care of our current and future veterans is a cost of war. It's a promise that must be kept, and I'm glad that my colleagues agree."

Murray inserted the amendment in the Interior Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2006. The House-Senate agreement passed the Senate this morning. It will now go to the President to be signed into law.

Senator Murray spoke on the Senate floor this morning in support of her amendment.

Her remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

Mr. President, the U.S. Senate has just done the right thing for America's veterans. I stand up in support of the bill, as it represents a step in the right direction for our veterans. Today the Senate will pass the Interior Appropriations bill for FY 2006, which includes my amendment to fix the VA's shortfall by providing $1.5 billion for FY 2005. This victory is long overdue, and I want to thank Senator Craig, Senator Hutchison, Senator Akaka, and Senator Feinstein for working with me to fix the VA's current shortfall.

I want to make sure that the VA uses this money in the way Congress intended. As the author of the amendment, I can tell you that these dollars must go to helping veterans. It should not be used for budget shell games to make the VA look solvent. It should not be used for red tape or accounting tricks. It should not be saved as a rainy day fund. The money in this bill is there to help veterans get the medical care the have earned. It should be used to end the hiring freeze, provide mental health services to veterans, and expand the VA's outpatient clinic initiative. I will be watching to make sure that money is used the way that all of voted for it to be used.

Now that we are taking care of the shortfall for FY 2005, we must turn our attention to funding for FY 2006. I want to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes that left our veterans so vulnerable this year. So far, I'm a troubled by some of what I hear coming out of the Administration. With new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan every day, this problem will only get more severe.

Veterans' funding has not kept pace with inflation in medical costs. When adjusted for inflation, the VA is spending 25 percent less per patient than it did in fiscal year 2000. This is having a big impact on patients and on VA healthcare personnel. In my home state of Washington at the VA’s American Lake facility, you can only get an appointment if you are 50 percent or more service-connected disabled. In the Puget Sound, as of January, there was an $11 million deficit, forcing the VA hospitals to leave vacant positions unfilled. The VA has dedicated, highly professional employees. They are working everyday to help veterans. We need to make sure the VA system helps them do that, rather than getting in their way.

As we work on funding for FY 2006, I want to be clear that veterans need real funding, not budget games. Congress will not accept gimmicks like forcing higher fees and co-payments on our veterans and calling that new revenue. Any plan that increases the burden on our veterans is also a nonstarter in my book. What’s really needed now is for us to step up and meet our responsibility to our men and women in uniform. This requires an infusion of cash to stop the bleeding at the VA and a real investment towards assistant America’s veterans. Now is the time to come together and provide the needed dollars so that our veterans have the quality, accessible care they need and deserve. The security and integrity of our nation depend on our willingness to keep our promises to our veterans. We have all heard reports of military recruiting not meeting its goals. Each day we limit veterans access to care, we are sending the wrong message to the troops of tomorrow.

Mr. President, I conclude with a quotation from our first President, George Washington, who knew that helping veterans helps America's security. He said: "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." I call on my colleagues to support this bill and work with me to keep the full $1.977 billion in emergency supplemental funding for the Veterans' Affairs Administration for fiscal year 2006. We should do everything to assist the VA with this funding now, so that we do not face future shortfalls. I hope that everyone here will continue to support at least $1.977 billion in emergency funding for fiscal year 2006. Thank you, Mr. President.