Murray’s Pressure Prevails for North Central Washington Veterans

May 03 2004

VA to Establish Local Clinic by 2006

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Under pressure from U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs has provided an overdue report to Congress on its plan to provide healthcare for 26,000 underserved veterans in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, Kittitas and Okanogan counties.

The report, issued late last week, calls for a Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) to be established in North Central Washington state by 2006. It further establishes the VA’s ability to contract with local hospitals to provide inpatient care for area veterans, once the CBOC is in place.

“This report ensures we’ll have a local VA clinic open by 2006, which is great news for veterans in North Central Washington but we need to make sure our veterans have access to their local hospital as soon as possible. They shouldn’t be forced to drive 3 hours to Seattle or Spokane,” Murray said.

While this is a victory for local veterans, Murray said she’s not satisfied with the VA’s timeline. “I think the VA can move faster on this clinic than 2006 and I intend on working with them to get it done,” Murray said. “These veterans have earned their benefits and they deserve to have local access to healthcare now, not in a few years.”

Currently, veterans in the area are limited to a one day-per month mobile clinic visit from the Spokane VA Medical Center’s motor coach. Local veterans with more serious problems or those who can’t wait for mobile clinic to visit their community are forced to drive to Seattle or Spokane

Murray, who has been working for years to help veterans in North Central Washington, inserted language into the Veteran’s Health Care, Capital Asset, and Business Improvement Act of 2003 mandating the VA to “develop a plan for meeting the future hospital care needs of veterans who reside in North Central Washington” by April 15th, 2004.

When Murray saw the VA failed to meet the statutory deadline, she wrote to Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Ranking Member Bob Graham (D-FL), to announce that she would place a hold on the President’s nominee to be the VA’s Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs.

“These veterans have been waiting far too long to get access to healthcare. Now the VA is making them wait even longer. I can’t tolerate that. Therefore, I will place a hold on (the) nomination unless, or until, I receive the VA’s plan to serve the veterans in this area,” Murray wrote to Specter and Graham.

Murray, who is also leading the fight to keep the Walla Walla VA Medical Center open against opposition from the Bush Administration, is the daughter of a World War II veteran, and the first woman ever to serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. She is also a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.