by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Senator Patty Murray was named chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee January 27, and said she is the one who will 'hold any president accountable - regardless of political party - accountable for making sure that veterans get the care they need.'
Murray was voted chairwoman by Democrats on the committee. Murray is the first woman to lead the panel.
According to Murray, she and Obama have a history on the committee. 'This president used to sit next to me as a junior member of the committee, and I remind the president of that all the time,' she said. 'Believe me, I take him on when he doesn't do things right.'
As chair, Murray says she will work to keep V.A. programs fully funded, and also scrutinize its handling of benefits claims and services at a time when large numbers of war veterans are seeking help.
As part of that effort, she wants the committee to examine the 'seamless transition' program, which seeks to improve cooperation between the Defense Department and the V.A. by creating a shared digital medical record system, aligning military and V.A. disability rating systems and other steps.
She also wants the committee to continue to examine veterans' unemployment, homelessness, and the difficulties faced by women who have served.
Murray takes over the committee at a time of great challenge due to rapidly escalating taxpayer cost for medical care and benefits for the nation's veterans, and a huge federal deficit that has increased the pressure to reduce federal spending among Democrats and Republicans.
She joined the Veterans Affairs Committee in 1995, three years after being elected to the U.S. Senate. Since then, she has tackled a number of veterans issues in Washington state, which is home to some 670,000 veterans, she fought efforts to close three state Department of Veterans Affairs facilities and also helped gain approvals for several new V.A. clinics.
The last time a Washington senator chaired a full committee was in the 1980s, when Sen. Warren Magnuson chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee and Sen. Henry Jackson led the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee.
SGN Associate Editor
At its first meeting of the New Year, the members of the King County Board of Health elected Metropolitan King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, an openly Gay politician, as board chair for 2011. McDermott was appointed to the Board of Health after joining the Council in November 2010.
McDermott said the challenge facing public health agencies throughout the region is continuing to deliver health services in the age of shrinking funds.
Last week, Public Health - Seattle & King County announced the layoff of over 120 Public Health employees who provide maternity support services for at-risk mothers so their babies start healthy by reducing low birth weights, which can result in long and expensive hospital stays, lifelong health problems, or even death.
'More than a third of all pregnant women in King County depend on the County for their health care, so these cuts will have a long-term impact on the health of our communities,' said McDermott. 'I will be working with the state Legislature to protect these critical services.'
'With his clear commitment and experience in working for healthier communities, I'm very much looking forward to working together with Councilmember McDermott in his new role as board chair to address our current crisis in public health service funding and other serious health threats,' said Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County.
McDermott will replace Councilmember Julia Patterson, who is stepping down after five years as board chair.
'As the legislator who introduced the first Clean Indoor Air Act, I have been concerned about public health issues my entire career,' said McDermott. 'I look forward to continuing the work of Councilmember Patterson and the entire Board as we work to promote health around King County.'
McDermott joined the County Council in November 2010, leaving the Washington State Legislature where he had served in the state House for seven years before being appointed in 2007 and later elected to the state Senate. He was a Senior Budget Analyst with the Seattle School District and worked for former Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney John Ladenburg.
The Board of Health is responsible for setting countywide public health policy, enacting and enforcing local public health regulations. The Board also plays a role in enforcing state public health statutes, preventing and controlling the spread of infectious disease, abating nuisances, and establishing fee schedules for licenses, permits, and other services.
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