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Press Release of Senator Cantwell

Cantwell Goes to Bat for Eastern Washington Veterans


Tuesday, February 10,2004


WASHINGTON, D.C . - Looking to reduce the wait time for veterans seeking healthcare, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) asking that Eastern Washington gets a fair shake when funding is distributed. Cantwell's letter comes at a time when 2400 veterans in Spokane and 990 veterans in Walla Walla are on a waiting list to see a physician at a veterans' health clinic.

“The first big fight was making sure this additional funding was passed,” Cantwell said. “Now we need to make sure it goes where it is needed most. These veterans gave so much to this country and now it's time we make sure they don't get a raw deal. ”

Cantwell was instrumental in the passage of an amendment that provided an additional $1.3 billion in funding for veterans healthcare. Her office estimates that $30 million of that additional funding is headed for Washington state, which could provide healthcare for 6,000 veterans who have not yet been treated. This would more than cover the backlog in Eastern Washington.

“I am writing to ask you to ensure that sufficient funding is provided for veterans in Washington state, particularly in those areas with excessive backlogs, including Central and Eastern Washington ,” Cantwell wrote. “I am hopeful that [this year's] funding increase can be used to reduce such backlogs and ensure equitable access to care for all veterans in Washington state.”

Cantwell's letter went to Dr. Les Burger, the Director of Veterans Integrated Service Network 20 (VISN 20). VISN 20 includes 8 major health care facilities, including those in Walla Walla and Spokane .

Cantwell continues to be a passionate supporter of preserving and increasing veterans' healthcare benefits. In addition to co-sponsoring the $1.3 billion funding increase, Cantwell has urged the CARES commission to preserve endangered veterans hospitals in Walla Walla and Vancouver . She is also a staunch supporter of providing full concurrent receipt to veterans.

The text of Cantwell's letter follows below:

Dr. Les Burger Network Director, VISN 20 Department of Veterans Affairs 1601 East Fourth Plain Boulevard Vancouver , WA 98661-3753 Dr. Burger:

I sincerely appreciate your commitment to ensuring the highest quality health care services to our veterans. As you know, on January 22, 2004 the Senate passed an omnibus appropriations bill that included an 11 percent increase in funding for veteran's health care. As you determine how these funds will be allocated in Vision 20, I am writing to ask you to ensure that sufficient funding is provided for veterans in Washington state, particularly in those areas with excessive backlogs, including Central and Eastern Washington.

I cosponsored an amendment to provide an additional $1.3 billion in funding for veteran's health care. I was pleased that this funding increase was included in the omnibus appropriations bill. It is my understanding that this increase will provide an additional $30 million to the State of Washington and care for approximately 6,000 new veterans.

In October, I visited the VA Medical Center in Spokane and discussed the challenges facing veterans in Eastern Washington, including attempting to gain access to the quality outpatient care the VA is known for. At the time of my visit, there were about 2,800 veterans on the waiting list at the Spokane VA Medical Center and hundreds more awaiting access to primary care at the Walla Walla facility. I understand the current backlog to be about 2,400 veterans in Spokane and 990 veterans in Walla Walla. I am hopeful that fiscal year 2004 funding increase can be used to reduce such backlogs and ensure equitable access to care for all veterans in Washington state.

I know that you share my belief that our veterans are one of the greatest assets of this country and we have a duty to ensure that they are provided benefits and assistance that they so greatly deserve. I look forward to working with you in the future on behalf of all veterans.

Sincerely,

Maria Cantwell