Update [2005-4-13 15:37:17 by susanhbu]: Two Kerry amendments pass. More below the fold.

Update [2005-4-13 11:26:15 by susanhbu]: Write your congressperson and senators to “Stop the GI Tax” which requires “veterans to pay an annual enrollment fee of $250 to use government health services in the 2006 budget.” (From Wes Clark’s WesPAC.)

As my friend Jerry just told me, the only veterans not about to get screwed are those in line to receive large inheritances (darn few) or without large debts (too many). See Jim McDermott’s floor speech, “Republican Weapon of Mass Debt,” and act against Bill # H.R.8 (estate tax) and S. 256 (bankruptcy bill).

Today, the VA health care system is overcrowded, under-funded and understaffed,” said Patty Murray (D-WA) on the senate floor before her budget amendment was defeated Tuesday. This morning, Senators Dick Durbin, John Kerry, and Robert Byrd are reintroducing (CSPAN2) three amendments to benefit veterans … more below . . . Call or fax (#s below); session resumes at 1:45 PM EDT . . .

Washington, D.C. — The Senate today passed two amendments authored by John Kerry from his Military Family Bill of Rights to help the families of America’s troops. One amendment will allow families to stay in military housing for a full year after the death of a spouse. The other will enable all military families to receive $500,000 in total death benefits when a loved one dies in service to America.

Both amendments are part of John Kerry’s continued fight for a comprehensive Military Family Bill of Rights. They are now part of the defense supplemental bill being voted on by the Senate this week.

“We have to support our troops in both word and deed. These amendments are a crucial start. I’ve heard from thousands of military families and their loved ones who want to see their government honor them not just in speeches, but in actions. Today marks a victory for their faith that when push comes to shove, we can hold leaders accountable and make Washington work for the military families who sacrifice for our freedom,” Kerry said.

After introducing his amendments yesterday and emailing military families across the country, John Kerry’s office was flooded with more than 2,200 e-mails from troops and their families with their personal stories about the need for these common-sense changes. To make the case for his Military Family Bill of Rights amendments and push the Senate to act, John Kerry read some of their personal stories on the Senate floor.  (more)

Murray said that in one VA hospital, bed frames are held together with duct tape and wire, and in another veterans having a type of bladder examination have to lie on a broken table because there is no money to replace it.

The Republicans say there’s no emergency in veterans’ care:

“In my opinion, there is not an emergency in the VA,” said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the current chairman of the Senate veterans committee.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the VA, said funding has been increasing and the levels are now adequate.

“The VA is telling us they have the money they need,” she said.

But Murray and other Democrats are pressing for additional funding:

“To give all these speeches and then not provide for veterans when they come home is a mockery,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

And the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, said “this is a common sense amendment to support the men and women who have borne the wounds of battle.”

Murray had attached her $2 billion amendment to an emergency supplemental spending bill that provides $81 billion “for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for tsunami relief in South Asia.”

“Part of the cost of the war is caring for the men and women when they return,” [Murray] said on the Senate floor. “There is a train wreck coming in veterans’ health care and I’m offering an amendment to deal with the emergency now – before it turns into a crisis.”

More than 240,000 servicemen and women have left the military since the Iraq war began, and more than 50,000 of those already have applied for Veterans Administration benefits at a time when VA medical services are overextended, Murray said.

Note: Sen. Byrd is on the floor arguing against the $36 million in the emergency bill for a permanent prison at Guantanamo Bay until the treatment of prisoners and other issues are addressed. (Amendment 367)

Support our veterans — the Durbin and two Kerry amendments are before the Senate this afternoon at 1:45 PM EDT:

Richard Durbin, D-IL

(202) 224-2152

(202) 228-0400 – fax

John Kerry, D-MA

202) 224-2742 – Phone

(202) 224-8525 – Fax

Patty Murray, D-WA

Phone: (202) 224-2621

Fax: (202) 224-0238

I do not have details on the Durbin and two Kerry amendments (Death and Housing Benefits) to be voted on this afternoon. I cannot find any press stories, and I tuned in too late to hear their floor speeches. All I know is that they are follow-up attempts to benefit veterans and VA hospitals after Murray’s two attempts failed. Of note: Both Maine senators voted against Murray’s amendments.

Who else should we contact?

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