News Releases

Murray/Akaka Win Victory for Veterans

Apr 26 2006

Additional $430 million for VA healthcare, veterans’ services passes Senate

Washington, DC - In a fight for veterans on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) won passage of an amendment adding $430 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The $430 million sum is specifically designed to supplement direct health care, mental health care, and transition services at the VA. The VA projected it would treat 110,000 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan this Fiscal Year, but the VA has already treated 74,000 just in this quarter.

“Our men and women in uniform deserve healthcare, job training and transition assistance – all of the things our country promised them when they volunteered to serve. Despite the increase in veterans coming home from war, the VA is still not budgeting for these real needs and our veterans are paying the price on waiting lists and in unemployment lines,” Senator Murray said. “Today, thanks to Senator Akaka’s leadership, we achieved a victory for our nation’s veterans. Our amendment is about owning up to the cost of war. Caring for our veterans when they return home is not just a promise it’s our nation’s solemn duty.”

Senator Akaka stated, “Time and time again, we have been told by mental health advocates that VA’s capacity is simply not enough. With a recent study finding that 35 percent of returning Iraq veterans have sought mental health services, we must prepare VA to handle this demand.”

Evidence continues to mount that shortfalls are having a direct impact on patient care. The amendment includes:

  • $80 million for Vet Centers – VA’s Readjustment Counseling Service. The Vet Center budget has been virtually flatlined. Over the years Vet Centers have provided services to a total of 118,811 Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom veterans. So far this fiscal year, Vet Centers have provided services to 70,547 OIF/OEF veterans. Vet Center services include outreach to returning servicemembers at demobilization sites. This includes National Guard and Reserves.
  • $168 million for VA’s comprehensive Mental Health Plan. In a recent Army study, it was found that one in three veterans returning from combat operations experienced some sort of readjustment issue. VA’s Mental Health Plan will create better working relationships between primary and mental health care providers, in order to ensure better coordination of care.

  • $182 million is provided to deal with existing shortfalls in VA hospitals and networks. VA data show that the number of new veterans enrolled in the department's health care system and waiting for their first clinic appointment to be scheduled has doubled in the year. As of April 2005, 15,211 veterans were waiting. This month, the number has ballooned to 30,475. Over the course of two years, the number of new enrollees waiting has increased by over 400 percent.

The amendment passed by a vote of 84 to 13. It was modified to require the President to request and designate the emergency funding.

Cosponsoring the amendment were Senators John Kerry (D-MA) Mark Dayton (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Barack Obama (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Joseph Biden (D-DE), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Tim Johnson (D-SD), and Richard Durbin (D-IL).