US Sen. Patty Murray to chair Veterans Affairs Committee

The Washington senator says her top priorities include cutting the time it takes veterans to receive benefits.

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WASHINGTON D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Patty Murray was elected chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday. She is the first woman to lead the panel.

A member of the committee since 1995, Murray said the appointment "is a great honor, but an even bigger responsibility."

"This is a truly amazing journey for me," she told reporters. Thinking back to 1972 when she was an intern with Vietnam veterans in Seattle, Murray said she never knew she would one day be the "top advocate" for veterans affairs in the Senate.

Murray said one of her top priorities will be the issue of benefits taking too long to get to veterans as well as keeping VA programs fully funded. Murray said 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 record system, aligning disability rating systems and other steps.

She also wants the committee to continue to examine veterans' unemployment, homelessness and difficulties faced by female veterans.

Murray was voted chairwoman by Democrats on the panel. She replaces Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who is leaving to chair the 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 Appropriations Committee and Sen. Henry Jackson led the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

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