More must be spent on care for veterans

Politics should have been put aside as the proposal to spend $2 billion more on veterans' health care was considered by Congress.

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Our nation's veterans are being used _ and abused _ as pawns in an ongoing partisan game being played in the U.S. Capitol.

It's outrageous. And citizens _ whether Republican, Democrat or independent _ shouldn't stand for it.

Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to include $2 billion for veterans' health care in the emergency spending bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Murray's proposal was sound. The reasoning for rejecting it was simply unreasonable. In fact, reason had little to do with its defeat. The additional funding for veterans' health care seems to have been rejected because it was proposed by a Democrat.

Had a Republican jumped on the idea, the GOP-controlled Congress and President Bush would have been warmer to the plan.

Caring for veterans isn't a Democrat or Republican issue, it's an American issue. It's the right thing to do for those who risked their lives in defense of this nation.

It's absurd to pretend that the current funding for veterans' health care is adequate.

It isn't.

Walla Walla's veterans hospital has seen a dramatic increase in demand recently. Bruce Stewart, director of the Jonathan M.

Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said the expenses have grown larger than the operating budget.

As a result, the number of patients who can be seen has been limited and a waiting list was created. As of two weeks ago there were 237 people on the waiting list compared to last September when there were just 26.

``It's driven by the available dollars,'' Stewart told the Union-Bulletin. ``It's impacting, to some extent, facilities across the country.'' Murray (trying to make political hay, of course) puts it more bluntly. ``There is a train wreck coming in veterans' health care, and I'm offering an amendment to deal with this emergency _ before it turns into a crisis.'' Adequately funding veterans' care, she said, is a cost of waging war. She's absolutely right.

Murray's proposal would have provided $525 million for mental health-care for returning veterans. A large portion of those funds would have gone toward those with post traumatic stress syndrome. We see that as extremely important as more and more soldiers who have been fighting in Iraq return home _ many in rural communities such as this one that don't have much psychiatric care to offer outside of a VA hospital.

Regional VA hospitals would have gotten more funding in Murray's plan. Hospitals in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska would have received a total of $40 million.

``I think our (region) has more demand and fewer resources than some,'' Stewart said.

``But I try not to get too involved with the politics of it. I take the decisions and do the best with what comes out on the other end.'' If the folks we elected to Congress would put politics aside and consider what's best for the nation (as well as what's right), veterans' health care would have received at least $2 billion in additional funding.

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