Move to re­name hospi­tal erupts into par­ti­san feud; Dem fears spon­sor’s gain

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Sean Lengell

A seem­ingly rou­tine mea­sure to re­name a New Mex­ico vet­er­ans hospi­tal for a re­cently de­ceased Medal of Honor win­ner has turned into a po­lit­i­cal feud in the House.

Repub­li­cans say House Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rep. Bob Fil­ner, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, is hold­ing up a Repub­li­canspon­sored bill to re­name the Vet­er­ans Af­fairs De­part­ment’s med­i­cal cen­ter in Al­bu­querque for Korean War vet­eran Ray­mond “Jerry” Mur­phy for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

“This fol­lows the Democrats’ theme of pol­i­tics over sub­stance,” said Rep. Steve Buyer of In­di­ana, the com­mit­tee’s rank­ing Repub­li­can.

Mr. Fil­ner coun­ters that it is the Repub­li­cans who are cyn­i­cally us­ing the name of a war hero for po­lit­i­cal gain. He said Mr. Buyer is push­ing the mat­ter in or­der to boost the profile of the bill’s spon­sor, Rep. Heather A. Wil­son, New Mex­ico Repub­li­can.

“He is just tak­ing this hero, Jerry Mur­phy, and us­ing his name to get his lady from New Mex­ico re­elected,” Mr. Fil­ner said. “I think that’s of­fen­sive to vet­er­ans.”

Mr. Buyer called the ex­pla­na­tion “warped” a day af­ter a House floor spat with Mr. Fil­ner over the bill, which he said is bot­tled up in com­mit­tee.

“I to­tally un­der­stand that some peo­ple don’t want a vet­er­ans bill with my name on it to pass the House for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons,” Mrs. Wil­son said.

Mrs. Wil­son, who was one of the Democrats’ top con­gres­sional tar­gets in the Novem­ber elec­tions, won a sixth term by fewer than 900 votes. Her dis­trict, which in­cludes Al­bu­querque, is con­sid­ered vul­ner­a­ble for a Demo­cratic takeover next year.

Mr. Fil­ner said the bill, which has passed the Se­nate, will be con­sid­ered for floor de­bate later this year.

He called Mr. Buyer con­fronta­tional. “All he does is con­front me on the House floor. He never talks to me in a cour­te­ous way,” Mr. Fil­ner said. “He doesn’t care about this stuff. He’s just try­ing to make an is­sue.”

Mr. Mur­phy, who died last month at age 77, served as a sec­ond lieu­tenant with the Marine Re­serve in the Korean War. While com­mand­ing an in­fantry pla­toon in 1953, his unit was at­tacked by Chi­nese troops. In­jured and un­der heavy gun­fire, he res­cued sev­eral men. He then picked up a ri­fle and held off the en­emy, killing sev­eral, un­til all the men in his unit reached safety.

Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower awarded Mr. Mur­phy the Medal of Honor in Oc­to­ber 1953 for “con­spic­u­ous gal­lantry and in­tre­pid­ity at the risk of his life above and be­yond the call of duty.”

Mr. Mur­phy served as di­rec­tor of the Vet­er­ans Ser­vices De­part­ment in Al­bu­querque for 23 years un­til 1997. Af­ter his re­tire­ment, he vol­un­teered at the city’s VA hospi­tal.

He re­quested to be buried in his VA hospi­tal scrubs.

“This bill isn’t about me or about any­thing po­lit­i­cal,” Mrs. Wil­son said. “It’s about honor­ing Jerry Mur­phy’s life of ser­vice. I’d ask the House lead­er­ship to be re­spect­ful of this great gen­tle­man’s me­mory.”

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