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thedrifter
12-10-08, 09:53 AM
A huge breakthrough for vets at Walla Walla

At last, after years of neglect by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and tireless work by Eastern Washington political leaders -- Sen. Patty Murray in particular -- our old soldiers, sailors and Marines have caught a break.

It's the first of two.

First, the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Medical Center in Walla Walla gets a $71.4 million upgrade.

Just four years ago, it was set for closure.

But the combined efforts of Murray, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and others have turned the situation around dramatically.

Murray, D-Wash., is a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

She brought plenty of muscle to the fight.

A fellow member of the Veterans Affairs Committee exercises even more.

That's Barack Obama.

Which brings us to the second big breakthrough.

Obama will nominate retired Gen. Eric K. Shinseki to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Shinseki is an immensely popular officer with American service personnel, known for his courage in facing up to the civilians in the Defense Department who tragically underestimated the troop strength needed to achieve success in Iraq.

Gen. Shinseki was ridiculed by the Bush administration for telling Congress -- as it was his duty to do -- that it would require hundreds of thousands of troops to maintain order in Iraq.

That was a gross exaggeration, according to hawkish Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

In prewar testimony before Congress, Wolfowitz casually dismissed Gen. Shinseki's estimates as wildly incorrect and predicted fewer than 100,000 troops would be needed.

This from a guy who never wore his country's uniform about one who is a decorated veteran of military service, including in Vietnam, where he was awarded two Purple Hearts.

Shinseki at VA should bring an enormous change from the scandalous operations of the past few years.

The construction project includes renovating the original hospital -- a 47,000-square-foot building built in 1929 -- and putting up a new 67,000-square-foot outpatient clinic next to it.

Some clinical services still will be provided out of the renovated original hospital, but it primarily will be used for administration and support services.

"This is a major victory," said Murray. "Thousands of veterans rely on the Walla Walla VA and today they can look forward to a new era of quality, expanded local care."

Murray said the news "is the result of a long, hard struggle ... Not long ago the VA recommended shutting Walla Walla down. Then, for many years the VA promised a new, modern facility in Walla Walla, but didn't live up to that promise. Today it is clear that not only will the Walla Walla VA medical center survive, it will prosper."

About Shinseki, Murray said: "Having sat next to President-elect Obama on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, I know his dedication to those who have served our nation. ... His selection of Gen. Shinseki reflects that. ... I also know that the problems at the VA won't be solved overnight."

The building will join with a previously announced project for a $9 million residential substance abuse treatment unit.

The medical center will become an unusual combination of antiquity and modern medical facilities.

The ancient trees, serene surroundings and shaded walks of the center make it one of the showplaces of Washington.

Murray noted that the holiday season "is a perfect time to thank the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country."

We agree.

It has taken Murray and the others years to bring around an often reluctant VA to do the right thing for members of the military who have done so much for their country and for us all.

The members of Congress saw saving the medical center as a moral obligation to our veterans.

We agree, and commend them for their diligence.

Ellie