Republicans have been criticizing Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley for missing most of the hearings the Veterans Affairs Committee held when Braley was on the panel. Now, a national group is spending $2.4 million to air that complaint in ads on Iowa TV stations.
Congressman Braley, the Democratic Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate this year, attended five of the 19 House Veterans Affairs Committee hearings held during the two years Braley was on the committee. The ad from “Concerned Veterans for America” says Braley “skipped an astonishing” number of hearings. Dan Caldwell, a former Marine who is the group’s legislative campaign manager, says Braley was absent or “AWOL” in 2011 and 2012 when veterans needed him most.
“He neglected his responsibilities as a member of the VA Committee and it was quite (clear) these responsibilities were a low priority to him,” Caldwell says.
The ad mentions one particular hearing Braley did not attend which focused on the long-wait times for veterans seeking care in the VA system as well as bonuses being paid to some executives in the Veterans Administration.
“The VA Committee…has been very proactive in flushing out a lot of these problems with the VA and Congressman Braley obviously neglected his duties as a member of the full committee and that, in our mind, is unacceptable,” Caldwell says.
The Concerned Veterans for America ad asserts Braley was too busy attending three different fundraisers on September 20, 2012, to go to that particular VA Committee hearing. Braley’s staff says Braley was not at a fundraiser during the time of the VA Committee hearing, but attended a House Oversight Committee hearing instead, an assertion Caldwell disputes.
“In that (Oversight) hearing he offered no testimony, there are no recorded remarks,” Caldwell says. “…What it looks like he did was show up briefly, got recorded attending and then left.”
Democrats charge “Concerned Veterans for America” is mainly financed by the Koch brothers, businessmen who have donated millions of dollars to conservative candidates and causes.
State Representative Todd Prichard, a Democrat from Charles City who is a major in the Iowa National Guard, defends Braley.
“It’s about getting results for the people you represent and it’s about taking care of those people back home and that’s what Bruce did,” Prichard says. “That’s what he did for the people I served with.”
Prichard’s guard unit served 17 straight months in Iraq, but when the soldiers returned in 2007 they were declared ineligible for military education benefits. They were also denied combat pay.
“Things that were promised to us that weren’t really delivered,” Prichard says. “But Bruce was able to work to get us kind of what we had coming for the service.”
Prichard also cites Braley’s work to extend another federal law that offers grants to returning soldiers with disabilities, so they can retrofit their homes.
“That’s how I know Bruce, as a champion and somebody who’s going to go to bat for veterans ’cause that’s what he’s done for me and the people I served with,” Prichard says.
As for the attendance issue in D.C., Braley’s staff says the congressman attended 15 of the 17 hearings held by the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee he was assigned to, so Braley’s overall attendance record for committee and subcommittee hearings was above 50 percent.
Attendance records were an issue in the U.S. Senate race earlier this year. Joni Ernst, who won the GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination in June, was criticized by one of her Republican opponents for missing about 40 percent of the votes taken in the Iowa Senate in the 2014 legislative session. Ernst is a state senator and an Iowa National Guard unit commander. A Cedar Rapids Gazette analysis concluded about 10 percent of the state senate votes she missed where taken while she was on active duty. The other 90 percent were missed because Ernst was out campaigning for the U.S. Senate.