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Mr. WALDEN. I want to thank my colleague from Arkansas.
Mr. Speaker, I stand in strong support of S. 509, which would authorize the VA to construct this new, multiple specialty outpatient clinic building as the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla, Washington.
Now the Walla Walla VA Medical Center serves more than 65,000 veterans in a 14-county area that spreads over northeastern Oregon, southeastern Washington and central western Idaho. It's an integral part of the VA's Northwest health care network and has long established itself as a very important resource for veterans and the veterans community.
Now, the construction of this outpatient clinic, along with campus renovations, upgrades and additional parking, will help this facility better serve our men and women who have worn our uniform. This investment in the Walla Walla VA Medical Center will cement its place as a provider of health care to veterans in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho by providing them with a modern facility that will improve quality-of-care delivery and that will continue to allow them to provide the best care possible.
Since 2003, when the VA's Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services, or CARES, Commission released its draft recommendation for the closure of this facility, veterans have rightfully raised concerns about the future of VA-delivered health care in this very rural region of our country. These veterans face the real possibility of having to drive hundreds of more miles to receive even the most routine care at the next closest VA facilities, which are located in Boise, Idaho; in Portland, Oregon; or in Spokane, Washington.
Like others in 2003, I voiced my strong concerns regarding the proposed realignment through a letter to then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Anthony Principi, and I submitted testimony to the CARES Commission. Through concerted efforts by area veterans, local advocates and elected officials, former-VA Secretary Jim Nicholson fully realized the importance of the care provided in this facility and reversed the commission's decision.
Today, the Walla Walla VA Medical Center continues to make a name for itself through the quality of care that it provides to our veterans. I was there in December of 2008, and I had the opportunity to meet with the new director of the Walla Walla VA Medical Center, Mr. Brian Westfield, and to receive an update on the facility, which has recently expanded its reaches into my congressional district through the opening of a very important clinic, a community outpatient clinic in La Grande, Oregon.
Last fall, the VA approved $71.4 million to design and construct this new, multiple specialty outpatient clinic in Walla Walla. The legislation we consider today would authorize that project. It is my hope that, with the completion of this clinic, the Walla Walla VA Medical Center will continue its tradition of providing quality care to the men and women who have given so much in service to our Nation.
So I thank you again for the opportunity to speak in favor of Senate bill 509. I thank Senator Murray for bringing this forward, and I thank members of both the Oregon and Washington delegations and of the Idaho delegation for their support. I look forward to the passage of this legislation.
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