Bringing To Veterans The Treatment They Have Earned

As the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee, I feel strongly that we must address the unique challenges that rural veterans face in accessing health care. Nationwide, more than 44 percent of recent U.S. military recruits come from rural areas, while across the country, one in five veterans who is enrolled to receive VA health care lives in a rural area. Veterans who live in rural settings are often older and have more physical and mental health diseases as compared to veterans who live in suburban or urban settings, and often lack access to high-quality medical services. The Rural Veterans Health Care Act would help address the unique challenges that our rural veterans face by increasing the number of facilities in rural areas and the amount of outreach that goes directly to rural veterans through mobile Vet Centers; encouraging recruitment and training of health care professionals in rural areas by instituting new programs and medical rotations; focusing on research related to the needs of rural veterans by establishing four Rural Health Research, Education, and Clinical Care Centers; and helping to develop the IT infrastructure needed to enhance services in rural areas. These are important steps that will make meaningful differences in the lives of rural veterans and help them to access the care that they have earned.

Closing Off A Pathway To Identity Theft

Having a social security number visible on a health care or identification card poses an unnecessary risk to an individual’s personal information. My bill would remove that threat from ever being realized. With all the technological advances we have these days, there’s no need to put Americans’ personal information in jeopardy. Why not remove these risks and protect people when and where you can?

If They Can't Find A Letter, How Can They Find A Terrorist?

The mysterious appearance of this letter, which details Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham looking to secure a contract for Shirlington Limousine with the Department of Homeland Security, on the day after the hearing and after intense media scrutiny would lead even the most trusting person to wonder what else is lurking in the catacombs of the DHS. This is all a bit too convenient. I can promise that this investigation will go forward and we will hold the top leaders of this Department accountable. If we can't trust them to find a letter, how can we trust them to find a terrorist?

Changing the Face of The Pentagon

On Tuesday June 13, the House Armed Services Committee met to consider H.R. 5200, a bill that would reorganize the National Guard as an independent service within the Department of Defense and appoint the Director of the National Guard Bureau to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The bill would also elevate the Director of the National Guard Bureau to the rank of 4-star general.

This hearing was the first of what I believe will be many hearings on this topic. Today, the guard and reserve have become an operational reserve. Individuals serving in either the guard or the reserve are expected to be highly trained and ready to deploy when called. Approximately 40% of the armed forces members currently in Iraq and Afghanistan are members of either the guard or reserve. Because the roles of the guard and reserve are changing, the committee will hold numerous hearings to determine the best way to reorganize the Department of Defense.

The last major reconstruction of the Pentagon was the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. The Goldwater-Nichols Act created the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appointed the Chairman of the Joint Chief as the primary military advisor to the President, and ushered in an era of joint cooperation between the services that led to repeated military success over the past 20 years. I am confident the committee will carefully deliberate and legislate on a bipartisan basis in the best interest of our nation to reorganize the Department of Defense.


Re:Line Item Veto--Destined For The Supreme Court

I've been fighting the Line Item Veto for years.  I think that it is an invitation to blackmail.  It is an abdication of the power of the House to a President who doesn't have better judgement than we do on spending.

Should it pass, I assure you it will go back to the Supreme Court.

One Part Of A Larger Plan For Fiscal Restraint

This proposal makes Congress more accountable for the spending it proposes, which will help us eliminate unjustifiable pork-barrel projects and exercise greater care with taxpayer dollars. We have also made certain it adheres to the Constitution and keeps the power of the purse in Congress, as our nation's founders intended.

This initiative is one part of our drive to bring greater transparency, accountability and common-sense restraint to the federal budget process. Together with earmark reforms, better budgeting for emergency spending, a sunset commission and other steps to control spending, our legislative line-item veto is part of our effort this year to get rid of waste and abuse in government.

Freeing Trade, Helping Workers

Congressman John Spratt and I sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative recently. We asked our colleagues to join us: We are writing to ask you to cosign the attached letter to the United States Trade Representative.The letter urges USTR to accomplish two objectives: 1) obtain a Special Textile Sectoral in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Development Round, and 2) insist on a textile safeguard system, or an extension of the current quotas as part of Vietnam's terms of accession to the WTO. Accomplishing these two objectives are vital steps to help ensure that more than half a million textile workers in the U.S. and tens of millions around the world keep their jobs and have an opportunity to compete against heavily-subsidized textile and apparel imports from China.


An Office of Men's Health

As we celebrate Father's Day, we also have an opportunity to give our fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles the very best gift - the gift of better health. That's why I've unveiled federal legislation to establish an Office of Men's Health within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Office would investigate medical issues unique to men and educate them on ways to improve their overall health and well-being.

The Office would address a wide range of issues involving men's health, including the growing life expectancy gap between men and women, the high incidence of prostate cancer and the reluctance of men to get regular check-ups and preventative health screening tests.

Re:Health IT Bill--Like Riding Without a Helmet

Creating the building blocks for huge information systems to store and exchange the medical secrets of millions of Americans WITHOUT building in privacy from the start is incredibly reckless and risky. It's sort of like hopping on a super-charged motorcycle and then thinking about the need for a helmet AFTER you hit the car. It's too risky, as I'm sure Pittsburgh Steelers' fans everywhere would agree.

The Markey-Capps amendment, which was defeated on a party line vote, would:

Give patients the power to keep their medical records out of these electronic databases unless they first give their permission;

Require patients to be notified if their health information in the system was lost, stolen or used for an unauthorized purpose; and

Require the use of data security safeguards such as encryption.

To achieve the benefits of health IT systems, we need to hard-wire health IT systems with strong privacy protections and the House should put those safeguards in place before any bill like this passes.

The Waiting List for Veterans Just Got Longer

The VA is overwhelmed and underfunded, but this week Congress decided not to provide the extra help our veterans need. Some veterans have to wait more than a year for care. Others are waiting 18 months for their benefits. Recently, a VA official said that care for mental health and substance abuse is "virtually inaccessible" (see http://murray.senate.gov/news.cfm?id=256085) due to long waiting lists.

Veterans deserve better. But this week Congress passed an emergency supplemental that left out the funding we secured in the Senate to help our veterans. In April, the Akaka-Murray Amendment [ http://murray.senate.gov/news.cfm?id=254786 ] passed the Senate with bipartisan support (84-13). But then our funding was stripped out of the final bill under pressure from the White House. Last week, when the conference met, I tried to reinstate that funding, but Senators defeated my effort on a party line vote. (15-13)

My dad was a disabled World War II veteran. When I was in college, I volunteered in the psychiatric ward at a VA hospital. I've seen how important VA care is. With a new generation of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, I know they're not going to get the care they need unless Congress and the White House provide the resources.

To receive my Veterans Alerts, visit http://murray.senate.gov/vetupdates