(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs today announced that it will seek to expand the benefits of former American Prisoners of War (POWs) to include measures proposed by Senator Murray in March.

Murray's bill, the Francis W. Agnes Ex-POW Benefits Act, would provide former POWs with expanded health care coverage and would eliminate the "minimum-time-held" requirement in order to qualify for these benefits.

Murray, a longtime champion for veterans, introduced her bill in early March to help ex-POWs get the benefits they deserve. In 1981, Congress began to address the needs of ex-POWs by establishing certain medical conditions as "presumptive" for POWs. Unfortunately, this system forced POWs to prove a very high correlation between their former captivity and current medical conditions before they could receive care. As a result, many health problems common in POWs were–and still are–denied coverage.

In recent years, Congress has worked to change the standard for veterans of certain conflicts. For example, Vietnam veterans who were exposed to herbicides, and Gulf War veterans who were exposed to unknown factors now get the help they need. Unfortunately, Congress never fixed this problem for veterans of the Korean Conflict and World War II.

"I am proud that the Administration has followed my lead on the critical issue of ex-POW health care," Senator Murray said. "By expanding benefits for former prisoners of war we will correct a glaring injustice and reaffirm our commitment to all those Americans held in captivity while fighting for our freedom."

The Administration's plan to expand benefits also adopts Murray's proposal to eliminate the current federal requirement that a POW must have been held for a minimum of 30 days in order to qualify for full POW benefits. Under this current requirement, the POWs of Operation Iraqi Freedom would not qualify.

"The current benefits policy sends a terrible message not only to our brave veterans, but also to the men and women serving our country today. We must expand benefits for all those who sacrifice to protect our country," Murray said.

Senator Murray, whose father was a veteran of World War II, is the first women to serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Earlier this year, the American Ex-Prisoners of War awarded Murray with the organization's highest legislative award, the Annual Barbed Wire Award. She is an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and has been honored as Legislator of the Year by the Vietnam Veterans of America.