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Talking with Secretary Shinseki at Forum on Women Veterans

Speaking at Forum on Women Veterans

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, left, and Senator Murray speak at reception for women veterans at Arlington National Cemetery

(Washington D.C.)– Last night, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) spoke at a reception for women veterans at the Women’s Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. The reception, hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), preceded the VA’s “Forum on Women Veterans,” aimed at engaging and educating veterans service organizations and women veteran advocates about enhancements in VA services for women veterans.  Also speaking at the reception were VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI), and Representative Bob Filner (D-CA).

“It’s so important that we publicly recognize the sacrifices and contributions of our women veterans,” Senator Murray said at the reception.  “It's up to us to make sure they get the recognition they have earned. And it’s up to us to guarantee they get the services and support they deserve.  That’s why I stand up and talk about this issue every opportunity I get.”

Murray’s comprehensive legislation to prepare the VA for the influx of women veterans who will access care there in the coming years, the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2009, was signed into law by President Obama on May 5, 2010.

Murray also introduced a bill that would expand assistance for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children and increase funding and extend federal grant programs to address the unique challenges faced by these veterans. This bill was recently blocked by Senate Republicans.

The full text of Senator Murray’s remarks follows:

“Thank you so much Marsha for that introduction.

“I want to recognize Secretary Shinseki, as well Chairman Akaka and Chairman Filner for their service and leadership.

“I also want to thank everyone here from the VA and VSOs.

“You all work so hard every day helping the men and women who deserve it most—and I am truly grateful for everything you do.  And I want to especially thank the veterans here today for your sacrifices and your service.

“You know, this is a very personal issue for me.

“Growing up, I saw first-hand the many ways military service can affect veterans and their families.

“My father served in World War II and was among the first soldiers to land on Okinawa. He came home as a disabled veteran and was awarded the Purple Heart.

“Like many soldiers of his generation, my father didn’t talk about his experiences during the war.

“In fact—we only really learned about them by reading his journals after he passed away.

“I think that experience offers a larger lesson about veterans in general. They are reluctant to call attention to their service, and they are reluctant to ask for help.

“And to tell you the truth, I think this is especially true for women veterans.

“That's why it is so important that we publicly recognize their sacrifices and contributions.

“It's up to us to make sure they get the recognition they have earned. And it’s up to us to guarantee they get the services and support they deserve.

“That’s why I stand up and talk about this issue every opportunity I get. And it’s why I introduced my bill, the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2009.

“This legislation expands and improves health care services to women veterans. It makes sure the VA has the resources to handle the long?term needs associated with a larger women veteran population. And I was proud to stand next to President Obama back in May when he signed this bill into law.

“I was also pleased to introduce the Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans with Children Act of 2009, which would make sure female homeless veterans have the opportunity they deserve to move their families into stable housing.  And I am going to keep fighting to pass this critical bill that so many veterans with families desperately need.

“You know, my work on women veterans issues began many years ago. I had been holding meetings with veterans throughout Washington state where I would sit down with them to listen to their stories about the difficulties they were facing transitioning home. 

“I would hear from some of the male veterans about their difficulties dealing with PTSD.

“I would hear from families about the struggles of caring for a loved one with a Traumatic Brain Injury. And from veterans who were waiting far too long for the benefits they rightly felt they had earned.

“But as these meetings ended and the crowds began to break up—almost every time—one of the female veterans who had attended would come up to me and whisper in my ear.

“She would tell me about the difficulties she faced coming home from service.

“Whether it was MST, or being thrust into a care-giving role, or just an inability to find a fellow women veteran to talk to, these women veterans all believed more could be done to help.  

“So I took up their cause—and I promised them I wouldn’t stop fighting for the changes they needed.

“Because this effort is about having a system that is sensitive to their needs. Where they can access the private, specialized care they deserve.

“It’s about ensuring that if something does go wrong for women veterans—the system is equipped to deal with it.  And it’s about making sure that women veterans know they don’t don't have to whisper their problems anymore—they can stand up and talk about them with everyone else.

“So thank you again for inviting me here today. And for everything you all do for our veterans, our families, and our nation.

“You all do such great work fighting to help women veterans across the country—and I am never going to stop fighting by your side.  Enjoy the rest of the night.”