In Our View: In Service to Vets

Sen. Murray, tireless advocate for veterans, now chairs powerful committee

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The contradictions are obvious, and yet they are welcome and they will serve the United States well.

As Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., settles into her new role as chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, it is important to recognize and understand how she has been training for the role her entire life.

As the daughter of a disabled World War II veteran, a Purple Heart recipient, Murray long has witnessed the struggles that veterans face upon completion of their service to the country. As a former intern at a Veterans Administration hospital in Seattle, she long has witnessed the successes and the failures of how America honors and cares for its veterans.

“It has been one of the great privileges of my Senate career to fight for veterans like my father … or the Vietnam veterans I met interning at the VA in college, or the countless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who I have spoken to about returning home with the visible and invisible wounds of war,” Murray said upon taking the helm of the veterans committee.

Murray’s Senate career, now in its fourth term, indicates that such comments are not simply lip service to the cause. The Columbian did not endorse Murray in last year’s election, but we have consistently acknowledged her work as a dedicated fighter for the rights of veterans and for improvements in their care. Among her accomplishments:

• She successfully battled to save the Jonathan M. Wainwright Medical Center in Walla Walla, which serves a 63,000-square-mile area in three states.

• She advocated updates to the G.I. Bill to better assist those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

• And she challenged bureaucrats from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs when they attempted to mislead Congress about the suicide rates of military personnel.

As Beau Bergeron, former head of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs, told The (Tacoma) News Tribune: “I’ve been in a number of meetings where she has caused bureaucrat-sounding folks to get weak in the knees and admit that they were not doing as good a job as they needed to.”

And yet there is that contradiction. It was evident in the fact that, in 2002, Murray was one of 23 senators to not vote in favor of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. Critics might hope to make political hay out of such a dichotomy, and yet there is none to be harvested.

In an era when the political ethos is to paint opponents with a broad brush, to suggest that everybody is an ideologue, Murray’s record stands as a reminder that the world is far too complex for such simple analysis.

In her case, it translates into this: Love the veterans, if not all their wars.

“These men and women, and all American veterans, will always be who I fight for, who I listen to first, and who I answer to,” she said. “Their needs, their struggles, and their stories will be the ones I bring to the VA to help deliver change and meet the many challenges we face.”

Those challenges are daunting. According to a report released jointly Thursday by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly 76,000 veterans were homeless on any given night during 2009. Roughly 136,000 veterans spent at least one night in a shelter during that year.

Specifically, Murray has expressed a desire to expedite the processing of claims from veterans; to encourage businesses to hire more veterans; to battle homelessness and joblessness among veterans; and to provide for the needs of female veterans, a population that is growing.

And, as she has demonstrated in the past, it’s safe to say that Murray’s dedication to these causes will be tireless.