Standing Up for Veterans, Murray Secures Commitment to Save American Lake VA Medical Center

Jul 30 2003

Secretary Principi makes personal pledge to Senator Murray to not shut down the facility; "I will continue to stand up for Washington state's veterans to fight any Administration efforts to break the promise of health care which these men and women have earned."

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Today, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi, called Senator Murray to respond to the Senator's concerns regarding the VA directive to examine closing three Washington state veterans' facilities at American Lake, in Tacoma, Walla Walla, and Vancouver. Senator Murray has called on Secretary Principi and the VA to abandon plans to close any VA facilities in Washington state through the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) initiative.

"Secretary Principi called me today with his personal pledge that American Lake VA Medical Center will not be closed. This is a tremendous relief for Tacoma area veterans and the many employees at American Lake," Senator Murray said. "I will continue to stand up for Washington state's veterans to fight any Administration efforts to break the promise of health care which these men and women have earned."

Under CARES, VA facilities throughout the nation were tasked with developing recommendations based on a thorough review of population data, market analyses of veterans' health care needs, the identification of planning initiatives for each market area, and most important, the significant involvement of stakeholders. Following the criteria and process set forth by VA, facilities made their recommendations to the VA Under Secretary for Health.

The Veterans Integrated Services Network (VISN) 20, which oversees regional veterans' facilities in Washington state, had submitted a set of recommendations about VA facilities in the state. The report, sent to VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., noted a growing veteran's population and increased demands for primary and specialty care in Washington state. In response, the Department of Veterans' Affairs quietly directed VISN 20 to rewrite their submission to headquarters, with closure options for the three Washington state facilities.

Secretary Principi and Senator Murray also discussed Murray's continued opposition to closing the Vancouver and Walla Walla VA facilities. The Secretary vowed to work to ensure the CARES Commission will fully consider the importance of these two facilities as well as take input directly from veterans in Washington state.

"The Secretary now has a much better appreciation for the valuable services provided at both Vancouver and Walla Walla," said Murray, "and I will insist that veterans get the care they deserve. I still have serious reservations about the manner in which the VA is treating veterans, employees and the local community at both Vancouver and Walla Walla."

Last week, following the VA's surprise directive to study closure of the three Washington VA facilities, Senator Murray wrote a letter to the Secretary opposing the potential closure. On Monday, Under Secretary for Health Robert Roswell met with Senator Murray's staff to discuss the CARES process and the Washington VA facilities in jeopardy. VA General Counsel Tim McClain appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday, July 29th and refused to answer Senator Murray's questions about American Lake, Vancouver and Walla Walla.

Secretary Principi's call to Senator Murray followed the hearing.

"I appreciate the Secretary's telephone call and I take him at his word that Washington veterans will get a fair hearing before any of our facilities are closed," Senator Murray said. "The Secretary knows that I will continue to follow this issue very closely and I expect greater cooperation and transparency from the VA."