Sen. Murray selected chair of Veterans Affairs panel
Sen. Patty Murray was elected chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Thursday, replacing Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Sen. Patty Murray was named chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday, and says she hopes to keep the Obama administration focused on the medical care and benefits due those who have served in the military.
"I am one who will hold any president accountable — regardless of political party — accountable for making sure that veterans get the care they need," said Murray, a Washington state Democrat.
"This president used to sit next to me as a junior member of the committee, and I remind the president of that all the time," she said. "Believe me, I take him on when he doesn't do things right."
Murray was voted chairwoman by Democrats on the committee. She replaces Sen. Daniel Akaka, an 86-year-old Democrat from Hawaii who leaves to chair the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
The last time a Washington senator chaired a full committee was in the early 1980s, when Sen. Warren Magnuson chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee and Sen. Henry Jackson led the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee.
Murray takes over the committee at a time of a rapidly escalating taxpayer cost for medical care and benefits for the nation's veterans, and a huge federal deficit that has increased the pressure to reduce federal spending among Democrats and Republicans, who took control the House of Representatives in the November election.
As chair, Murray says she will work to keep VA programs fully funded, and also scrutinize its handling of benefits claims and services at a time when large numbers of war veterans are seeking help.
As part of that effort, she wants the committee to examine the "seamless transition" program, which seeks to improve cooperation between the Defense Department and the VA by creating a shared electronic medical record system, aligning military and VA disability rating systems and other steps.
"We still have some lack of communication between the DOD and the VA, and I want to hear from veterans who are going through the process," Murray said.
She also wants the committee to continue to examine veterans' unemployment, homelessness and the difficulties faced by women who have served.
Murray is the first woman to lead the panel.
She is the daughter of a disabled World War II veteran, and as a 22-year-old college intern she worked with Vietnam veterans at a psychiatric hospital ward in Seattle. She joined the Veterans Affairs Committee in 1995, three years after being elected to the U.S. Senate.
Since then, she has tackled a number of veterans issues, including exposing a big shortfall of funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs during President George W. Bush's administration and advocating for improved services for the growing number of women veterans.
"Veteran issues have always been at the forefront of her work, and we are very pleased with her selection," said Jay Agg, a spokesman for AMVETS, which has some 200,000 members nationwide.
In Washington state, which is home to some 670,000 veterans, she fought efforts to close three state Department of Veterans Affairs facilities and also helped gain approvals for several new VA clinics.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or email@example.com
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