Patty in the News

The things most of us learn at home tend to be the most valuable lessons of our lives, the ones that build character and bring out empathy for others.

For Sen. Patty Murray, those lessons were learned in a household that included her father, a disabled American veteran from World War II.

It grew when, as a 22-year-old student at Washington State University, she interned at the Seattle veterans hospital, where she was assigned to do physical rehabilitation in the psychiatric ward.

These are close-up and personal experiences.

And they shaped Murray, a Democratic U.S. senator who has many years of successful experience on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Now she's been named committee chairman, succeeding Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, a World War II veteran.

Even before being named to chair the committee, Murray was a force to be reckoned with by the VA.

Most memorable hereabouts were the drawn-out and occasionally fiery disputes over closing parts or all of the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Medical Center in Walla Walla.

Wainwright was the general taken prisoner by the Japanese at the time of the Bataan Death March and was with Gen. Douglas MacArthur on the deck of the USS Missouri at the signing of the documents that ended World War II.

The very concept of closing that hospital, on whose grounds Wainwright was born and which had existed as a storied military post since the 1850s, was seen as an outrage.

Murray brought that battle home to the head of the VA, and Wainwright still stands as a medical haven for injured veterans.

But it is interesting to note that Murray, in taking over the chairmanship of the committee, shows respect for the VA staff.

"I know the VA has some of the most dedicated employees in the world and provides tremendous services to many of our veterans," she said.

"But I also know there are a great many challenges to be met. Today, too many veterans are waiting far too long to get the benefits they've earned. Too many veterans are struggling to get access to mental health care, worker training and other resources to help them transition from the battlefield to the civilian world.

"And still, far too many veterans are sleeping on the streets after serving their country. These are among the many issues I plan to take an active and aggressive approach to helping find solutions for."

Murray has many political achievements to her name, including being a champion for Boeing to be treated fairly in government contract negotiations.

She also signed on to end the reprehensible practice of allowing individual senators to put secret, anonymous holds on some votes, particularly administration appointments to high office, for reasons apparently as petty as they are unfair.

But Veterans Affairs will always be special to her.

"It has been one of the great privileges of my Senate career to fight for veterans like my father ... or the Vietnam veterans I met interning at the VA in college, or the countless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who I have spoken to about returning home with the visible and invisible wounds of war.

"These men and women, and all American veterans, will always be who I fight for, who I listen to first, and who I answer to. Their needs, their struggles, and their stories will be the ones I bring to the VA to help deliver change and meet the many challenges we face."

Those veterans have exactly the right champion in Patty Murray.

- Tri-City Herald (editorial)