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

Re:Rep. Jefferson--Speaking Out Against a Double Standard

Last evening, I was given the opportunity to address the Democratic Caucus on the matter involving Congressman William Jefferson. In my remarks, I stressed my strongly held belief that the Caucus should adhere to the inscription on the Supreme Court - our nation’s highest Court – "Equal Justice Under Law." I enumerated the instances where members of Congress had been investigated and in some cases, indicted, yet suffered no loss of Committee assignments. One former member was involved in a murder investigation – yet there was no move to deny him his right to sit on a Committee. The last time the Democratic Caucus stripped one of its members of Committee power was in 1967, in the case of another African American, Adam Clayton Powell, who was then excluded from the full House. The Supreme Court later ruled, in 1969, that the House had acted unconstitutionally and he was reinstated. If the criminal investigation underway results in the indictment of Congressman Jefferson, so be it. He will then have the right to defend himself in a court of law. That’s the American way. I believe that last night’s vote was a serious mistake that created a double standard and allows arbitrary, rather than equal, justice. I appreciate my colleagues who stood up for fairness and equality, especially my New Jersey colleague Steve Rothman, who took a principled stand in attempting to establish clear rules which would apply to all members when these cases are considered.

For Rep. Jefferson, Due Process Was Exchanged For Politics

My concern was two-fold: 1) The Democratic Caucus does not have rules in place to remove a rank and file member who has not been arrested or indicted for any wrongdoing. In my opinion, due process requires objective standards for removing a duly elected Member of Congress from his or her committee, under any circumstances. There are no such standards now. To remove a member in the absence of those objective standards is inherently arbitrary and invites abuse. Our Democratic Caucus should have established rules governing this situation and then revisited whether Mr. Jefferson deserves to be removed under those agreed on rules. 2) The Democratic Caucus has had members with problems before, Gerry Studds and Gary Condit come to mind, and yet we have never punished a sitting member in this manner. I was and am concerned that by taking this action against Mr. Jefferson we are setting a dangerous double-standard. Our party is supposed to stand for the rights of the accused and the value of due process even if doing so isn't popular or politically expedient.

Get Us Out of Iraq

I voted against the original war resolution, and I was one of three people who supported legislation for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. I am in support of a full withdrawal.

These folks lied to us. They sent a good man like Colin Powell to lie at the UN.

Sometime this weekend I'll be making a phone call to a family in my district who lost a son in Iraq. I want to say what is correct, but what I really want to tell that family is that they never should've sent your son over there.

Re: House Iraq Debate-Why I Did Not Vote For The Resolution

Twenty-five hundred American men and women have died since this war started three years ago. Dozens of those are from Tennessee. Now we find out that, according to news reports, Iraqis might make the murder of U.S. troops an excusable offense and grant amnesty to those who killed our men and women. I find that repulsive and could not support the House resolution, which praises the same Iraqi government that is reportedly considering such a negotiation.

Re: House Iraq Debate-Why stay this course when it leads to disaster?

Today, on its one-year anniversary the "Out of Iraq" Caucus is putting its weight behind the only coherent, rational plan that will end the abysmal policy failure in Iraq and bring the troops home. Let me be clear. US troops have and continue to make valiant efforts, demonstrate unparalleled bravery and an unwavering commitment to follow an unrepentant Commander-in-Chief who refuses to take responsibility for his numerous mistakes. This war has become synonymous with corruption, mismanagement, faulty planning, duplicity, and an immeasurable loss of human life-the precious lives of 2,500 US troops and thousands of Iraqi civilians. Instead of dealing with these realities and fulfilling their Constitutional obligation to provide the appropriate checks and balances, Congressional Republicans have been intentionally disingenuous in their efforts to accuse Democrats of being unpatriotic, of not supporting the troops, and of wanting to "cut-and-run." Far from espousing any thing close to a "cut-and-run" strategy, H. J. Res. 73, the legislation introduced by Rep. John Murtha is the best plan available. It provides for a conclusion to the war and aspires to bring the troops home. The Resolutions will prevent more troops from being sent to Iraq, start redeploying US troops based on a timetable established by military leaders on the ground, and leave a contingent of Marines in the Middle East to respond to threats that destabilize our allies in the region or the national security of the United States.

Re:Health IT Bill--Improving Patient Privacy and Doctor Access

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee on Thursday considered a bill (HR 4157) that would promote the use of health care information technology and establish national standards on privacy and implementation of electronic health records. I am a strong supporter of the movement toward electronic health records. I believe this will help with patient care by ensuring that doctors have quick access to complete and accurate patient info. For example, it will be less likely that double tests will be ordered or for a patient to have a problem filling a prescription because of bad handwriting. The legislation, which I co-sponsored, would also establish a committee to make recommendations on national standards for medical data storage and develop a permanent structure to govern national interoperability standards. Interoperability of data storage is essential because electronic records will be ineffective if different systems are used that can not share information or have different privacy standards. The bill also would clarify that current medical privacy laws apply to data stored or transmitted electronically and would require the HHS secretary to recommend to Congress a privacy standard to reconcile differences in federal and state laws. I recognize the need to protect this extremely sensitive information.

Re:Health IT Bill--We Could Have Done Better

Yesterday, in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I opposed the Better Health Information Technology Promotion Act. My Republican friends have repeatedly said that this should not be a partisan issue and I entirely agree. I am sorry, however, that we were not able to work together and agree upon legislation that would bring our nation's health system into the 21st century. I am dismayed that we were not able to come together the same way our Senate colleagues were able to. As a result, I believe the legislation before us fell far short of the bill passed unanimously by the Senate, and will do little to advance the widespread adoption of Health Information Technology. The bill left a lot of room for improvement and is far from "superior", which is the word used to describe it in our Subcommittee markup last week. For one, this bill provides no funding to help providers implement health information technology.


A Patient Privacy Bill Without The Funds To Support It

I had hoped the Committee would craft a Health Information Technology bill that would give health care providers the resources necessary for adoption of new technology. Unfortunately, that was too much to ask. Instead of authorizing grant funds to help providers, this bill was riddled with exemptions and lacked important privacy protections, which is why I voted against it.