WALLA WALLA — U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Wednesday pressed administration officials for answers about care for veterans, including how funding will be achieved for the planned Washington State Veterans Home at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center.
Murray, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, grilled U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel about critically needed federal money for the Walla Walla nursing home for veterans, according to a transcript of the hearing supplied by her office. She also questioned them about continuing problems at the Spokane VA Medical Center, such as understaffing and budget shortfalls
As proposed, the Walla Walla facility would add 93 permanent jobs, a training partnership with Walla Walla Community College and serve 10 counties, including Benton and Franklin, with a combined population of more than 50,000 veterans.
The nursing home would be a complex of small houses on the Walla Walla VA campus and include a skilled nursing home to provide long-term care to honorably discharged veterans and the surviving spouses of veterans who have died.
The Walla Walla project is still waiting startup in a time of reduced funding for state veterans homes grants, Murray told Shinseki and Petzel. “These veterans have been waiting a long time for this facility ...,” she said.
Prioritizing such projects is timely and urgent, she said. While perception may be that veteran care issues will diminish now that U.S. forces are no longer fighting in Iraq and the 13-year war in Afghanistan is winding down, the opposite is true, according to Murray.
“A lot of veterans are going to be coming to the VA for the very first time in the coming years,” she said.
Petzel assured Murray he has heard her concerns about the Walla Walla nursing home on numerous occasions and that he shares her angst.
“We are looking at whether there is a solution that will allow us to use the 2014 money in order to accomplish that construction, but we’re not finished looking at what the alternatives are,” Petzel said.
Congress needs to understand the situation and figure out how to fund answers, “rather than just being told everything’s OK,” Murray said.
“I want to know specifically about Walla Walla, what we’re going to do, but also the funding in general … We need to know where (the Walla Walla nursing home) is going, and overall, not just that one, but all of them — how are we going to deal with these veterans homes with declining budgets?”
Murray’s testimony was the “unrelenting, tremendous support,” just as he expected it to be, said Walla Walla Deputy City Manager Tim McCarty. “I was very pleased to hear what she had to say.”
McCarty is also chairman of a task force that has helped rally funding for the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He and others are expecting Murray at the April 15 ribbon cutting for the VA’s new outpatient clinic, he said, calling it “one of the several projects she’s been able to help us acquire in Walla Walla.”
Sheila Hagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8322.