Murray Commends Passage of Wounded Warriors Bill

Jul 25 2007

As President Reviews Dole-Shalala Study, Senate Takes Action to Improve Care for Troops and Veterans

Audio | Video -  Senator Murray's Remarks

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) helped pass landmark legislation to improve care for wounded troops and veterans when they return home from battle.  The Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act passed the Senate today by unanimous consent. 

"Today, the Senate took action to provide real solutions that meet the needs of our troops and veterans from the battlefield to the VA and everywhere in between. The Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act finally recognizes our troops as a cost of this war and reverses the trend of administration inaction that has cost them so dearly. 

"From inexcusably long waits for basic care and claims, to squalid living conditions, to daunting mazes of paperwork, our heroes deserve better than what they have received from this administration. Under our new direction in Congress, we have made real and immediate progress in making changes, while the administration continues to lag behind. Today, as the President considers the results of a study he commissioned nearly five months ago to examine the extent of problems, we are acting to fix them.

"Without hesitation or complaint our men and women in uniform have answered the call to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have left loved ones for years, put their careers on hold, and put their lives on the line. We owe them this prompt and comprehensive response to the problems that have plagued their care."

The Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act:

  • Requires the Department of Defense and VA to work together to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent, treat and diagnose TBI and PTSD.
  • Directs the two agencies to develop and implement a joint electronic health record so that critical medical records are not lost as our wounded troops move from battlefield doctors to medical holds and on to the VA.
  • Requires the military to use VA standards for rating disabilities, only allowing deviation from VA standards when it will result in a higher disability rating for the service member.
  • Requires the military to adopt the VA presumption that a disease or injury is service-connected when our heroes – who were healthy prior to service - have spent 6 months or more in active duty

The bill also addresses:

  • substandard facilities
  • lack of seamless transition from DOD to the VA
  • inadequacy of severance pay
  • and medical care for caregivers not eligible for TRICARE.


Senator Murray's remarks on the Senate floor today about passage of the Wounded Warrior Bill follow:

Mrs. Murray: Mr. President, earlier this morning, the Majority Leader, Senator Reid, asked unanimous consent for the Senate to pass a significant piece of legislation, the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act. That was agreed to, and the Senate has now accomplished a major step that I wanted to take a few minutes to highlight this morning. 

Mr. President, all of us were astounded earlier this year when the Washington Post ran a series of articles about the treatment of our soldiers, our men and women at the Walter Reed facility. They outlined the horrific conditions that some of our soldiers were living in as they received treatment for their wounds from a war far away. 

After that, we talked to and heard about many soldiers who were in medical hold units, not only at Walter Reed but across the country, who were waiting not a few weeks, not a few months, but months on end and even almost two years to get their disability ratings, so they could be discharged from the military and continue on with their lives. 

What I Heard at Walter Reed

I went up to Walter Reed with our Majority Leader and members of our leadership team to talk to some of the soldiers who were in Medical Hold at Walter Reed. They expressed complete frustration at what they found themselves in. And it was not just the physical part of their living conditions, but it was the fact that they had other wounded soldiers who were their advocates trying to help them work through a disability system that made no sense to them, to their advocate, or to any of us who are listening. 

They talked about their family members, who were literally left on hold not knowing when they would be able to come home and get a job and be back together with their family again. They talked about long, long lines. They talked about paperwork that had gotten lost.  They talked about not knowing that they had Traumatic Brain Injury even a year and a half after they'd been wounded and come home. No one had taken the time to ask them if they'd been near an explosive device and perhaps had had some kind of brain injury. Yet, they knew that they couldn't find their keys that they set down.  They couldn't remember the dates of their kids' birth.  They couldn't remember what they'd done a few years ago much less today. They knew something was wrong, but no one had taken the time to ask them what they had seen on the ground in Iraq or what they'd been involved with that might have caused a brain in injury. 

What I Heard in Washington State

Mr. President, I went home to the state of Washington and talked with some of our soldiers who were in medical hold at one of our facilities in Washington state. I invited anyone who would like to come. I expected maybe a dozen, maybe two dozen men and women to come over and talk to me. Over 200 showed up -- angry, frustrated, story after story after story of long delays in getting their disability ratings, in being able to get their lives put back together and not being diagnosed correctly.

Well, Mr. President, I'm proud that the Senate in just a few short months has stood up and said "not on our watch, not anymore." 

We Passed the Wounded Warriors Act

This morning, in passing the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act, we are moving forward in an aggressive way to make sure that the men and women who have served our country so honorably are treated well when they come home.

We're making sure that those men and women who were asked to fight a war for this country, no matter how we felt about that war personally, went to war, fought for our country, don't have to come home and fight their country again to get the health care that they so deserve. 

Our Historic Joint Hearings Showed Solutions

Mr. President, this Senate acted in an aggressive way. Two of our committees, the Veterans' Affairs Committee, headed by Senator Akaka, and the Armed Services Committee, headed by Senator Levin, in a bipartisan way put together a committee, a joint committee historically for the first time to bring in experts to talk to us about what the needs were and what we needed to do. 

Making the Pentagon and VA Work Together

From those recommendations – which were excellent from that joint hearing -- we worked together in a bipartisan way to put together legislation that would require the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs to develop a comprehensive policy by January 1 of next year on the care, management, and transition from the military to the V.A. or to civilian life, so that our service members don't fall into that trap in that transition between the D.o.D. and the V.A. anymore and feel like they've come home and been lost. 

This is critically important, Mr. President. It is an aggressive action that for the first time will require the Department of Defense and the Department of the V.A. to work together. Soldiers, men and women too often feel like they're in the service, in the Army, in the Navy, in the Air Force, in the Marines -- in the Armed Forces and have a completely different system that doesn't even talk to our V.A. that has a totally different disability system. Their paperwork doesn't go back and forth between each. How they're rated as disabled by the Army is completely different than how they're rated by the Veterans' Affairs department. That means that their care is not adequate.  It means they're frustrated.  It means they're angry, and we say, "No more." We're requiring now the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs to jointly come back to us with a policy that makes sense for this country's men and women, who have fought for all of us. 

Providing Enhanced Healthcare

In this legislation, we also dealt with enhanced health care for our men and women who have served us. Too often, they find themselves cut off for health care long before they're able to get back and get a job. And we authorized disability ratings of 50% or higher to receive care benefits for three years and also for some of their family members who, once their husband or spouse, wife, has been injured, they lose their own health care. We make sure that we aggressively move forward and don't allow our families to be lost without health care while their service member is being cared for at one of our medical facilities. 

Screening for TBI and PTSD

We also focused dramatically on T.B.I., Traumatic Brain Injury, and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, two significant wounds of this war, and we establish new centers of excellence within the Department of Defense for both -- one for T.B.I. and one for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. We require the Department of Defense to analyze soldiers, so that they don't go home and end up like one young man told me.  He'd been discharged from the army and for 18 months was at home, no one asked him when he was discharged whether he had been around any kind of I.E.D. explosion in Iraq. No one asked him how he was doing. For 18 months, he sat at home in a rural community in my state and wondered why he could no longer talk to his friends. He wondered why he couldn't remember what he learned in school a few years ago. He wondered why as a young man of 22 he felt his life had changed dramatically, and he didn't know who he was anymore, and who eventually tried to take his own life. That should not happen to a serviceman or woman who has served us honorably, Mr. President. 

But what happened to him has happened to many other soldiers who have served us in Iraq. He had been around not one, not five, not 20, but more than 100 explosions while he was on the ground in Iraq. And, as a result of that, had severe Traumatic Brain Injury that was not diagnosed when he left. No one asked him when he was discharged whether he was having any problems, and no one followed up when he got home to see if he was adjusting okay. 

We say, "No more." We make sure the Department of Defense looks at every soldier when they come in and when they leave, ask them what kind of action they've seen on the ground in Iraq and follows up with them and gives them the care so that they can perform and return back to normal life as quickly as possible. 

The Senate Acted Quickly

Mr. President, this is the least that we can do. It has taken the Senate just a few months to aggressively go after this, to pass a bill out of committee, to bring it here to the United States Senate. And very importantly, we've brought it here to the full Senate this morning.  Hopefully it will move quickly to conference and to the desk of the President of the United States. That is what our soldiers deserve. I'm sorry it happened four and a half years after this war started. It should have started before this war. I won't go into the lack of pre-planning today.

But I will say this, as a senator who did not vote to go to war in Iraq, I have said consistently, no matter how we felt about that war then or how we feel about it today, we have an obligation as leaders in this country to make sure that our men and women who fight for us get the care they deserve. 

This passage of this bill today is part of that commitment, and I'm very proud of the Senate. 

Dole-Shalala Commission To Release Report Today

Later this morning, the commission that the President has put in place, the Dole-Shalala commission, will also come forward with their recommendations. I'm looking forward to see what they have to say. 

But this Senate is not going to sit around and wait for a report from anybody. We are moving and we're moving aggressively, Mr. President. And I hope that whatever recommendations come out in the Dole-Shalala commission report that we see today don't end up on a dusty shelf in the White House as the 9/11 commission recommendations did or as the Iraq Study Commission recommendations did. 

I hope that the White House works aggressively to make sure that these recommendations from the Congress and from their commission are put into effect. Because whatever laws we pass will only be managed as efficiently and as effectively and work if the White House joins us in partnership in making this happen. 

Mr. President, I just wanted all of our colleagues here in the Senate to know and for the country to know we are moving aggressively forward to make sure the men and women who serve us are served well as part of this country.