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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Braley’s VA Hearing Attendance Under Attack

A veterans advocacy group is making false and potentially misleading claims in a TV ad attacking U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley on his commitment to military veterans.

  • The ad falsely claims that Braley “skipped an important VA reform hearing to attend three fundraisers.” None of the fundraisers was scheduled at the same time as the congressional hearing that Braley missed.
  • The ad also claims Braley “skipped an astonishing 79 percent of Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings.” What the ad doesn’t say is that those were the full committee hearings. Braley also served on the VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity in 2011 and 2012, and he attended 88 percent of the subcommittee hearings.
  • Plus, the ad says that “Congress was warned” about “secret lists, long waits, and preventable deaths” at the VA, “but Bruce Braley ignored it.” A graphic of a Government Accountability Office report from December 2012 on the reliability of reported VA outpatient wait times is then shown on screen. But that report didn’t say anything about “secret lists” or “preventable deaths” that have been the subject of news reports and congressional hearings this year. And the GAO report was the subject of a VA committee hearing in March 2013, after Braley was no longer on the committee.

The 30-second spot, from Concerned Veterans for America, began airing on July 25 and is part of a $2.4 million TV, digital and print ad campaign in Iowa, according to the group. Braley, a four-term Democratic congressman, is going up against Republican Joni Ernst, an Iowa state senator, in one of the closer Senate contests this fall.


 Skipping Hearings to Raise Funds?

We’ll start with the ad’s false claim that Braley “skipped an important VA reform hearing to attend three fundraisers.”

Here’s what’s true: Braley missed the hearing, titled “Veterans Affairs in the 112th Congress: Reviewing VA’s Performance and Accountability,” on Sept. 20, 2012. He also attended three fundraisers for his reelection campaign that day in Washington, D.C.

The problem with the ad’s claim? The time of the congressional hearing that Braley missed didn’t conflict with the times of the three fundraisers that he did attend.

Braley attended a breakfast fundraiser that was scheduled to last from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. He attended a lunch event with supporters at noon. And, finally, he attended a fundraising reception from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the evening.

But the hearing that Braley missed, which was to discuss a backlog of disability claims and mental health care issues for veterans, started at 10:19 a.m. and adjourned at 11:54 a.m. So the hearing began after the first fundraiser was scheduled to end, and the hearing was over shortly before the second fundraiser was scheduled to start.

The Braley campaign has said that the congressman was actually attending a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on a Department of Justice inspector general’s report on the “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking operation. That hearing was taking place at roughly the same time as the VA committee hearing. How long Braley was present for the hearing on the DOJ inspector general’s report is questionable, though.

The official transcript of the Oversight Committee hearing, which lasted from 9:36 a.m. until 12:45 p.m., lists Braley as “present.” There are no recorded remarks from him, however. Also, C-SPAN video footage of the hearing doesn’t appear to show Braley ever in his seat. But the camera also is not focused on his chair through much of the hearing.

When FactCheck.org asked how long Braley attended the Oversight Committee hearing, the Braley campaign would only say that “the official transcript marks him as present.”

Braley did attend and participate in a VA subcommittee hearing later that day at 2:29 p.m. The hearing was to discuss changes to the Transition Assistance Program, which helps service members make the transition back home and to work after serving in the military.

To support its claim that Braley “skipped an important VA reform hearing to attend three fundraisers,” Concerned Veterans for America provided links to a Des Moines Register report that said only that “Democrat Bruce Braley attended three fundraisers for his own campaign on a day that he missed a committee hearing on the lack of oversight at the Veterans Administration, records show.” Yet the report didn’t say that Braley missed the hearing to attend those fundraisers, and CVA provided no other evidence proving that the fundraisers were the reason Braley was absent from the hearing.

Braley’s Attendance Record

The ad also claims that Braley “skipped an astonishing 79 percent of Veterans Affairs’ Committee hearings.” That’s accurate, but not the whole story.

The Braley campaign, in an email to FactCheck.org, admitted that the congressman missed 15 out of 19 full committee hearings as a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee from 2011 to 2012. However, that’s not his complete attendance record.

Braley also served on the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity those two years, and he attended 15 out of 17, or 88 percent, of the subcommittee hearings. That means that, in total, combining the full committee hearings and subcommittee hearings, Braley was present at nearly 53 percent of the hearings that he could have attended.

His campaign said that “it should be noted that during many of these missed hearings, Braley was attending other committee meetings or fulfilling other veterans affairs-related business.”

For example, on April 5, 2011, Braley missed a hearing on the VA’s fiscal year 2012 construction budget to attend an Oversight Committee hearing on funding issues facing the U.S. Post Office. And on Aug. 13, 2012, Braley was absent for a hearing, about a new VA medical center in Orlando, which was held in Florida and was only attended by senators and representatives of that state.

Braley ‘Ignored’ Warnings?

Before the ad gets to the claims about Braley’s hearings attendance, it opens with this line: “The VA is failing our veterans: Secret lists. Long waits. Preventable deaths. Congress was warned. But Bruce Braley ignored it.” A graphic of a Government Accountability Office report from December 2012 also appears on screen.

But that report, titled “VA Health Care: Reliability of Reported Outpatient Medical Appointment Wait Times and Scheduling Oversight Need Improvement,” didn’t say anything about the “secret lists” or “preventable deaths” that have been the subject of news reports and congressional hearings in 2014.

The GAO report found that “outpatient medical appointment wait times reported by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), are unreliable.” It also said that it found “inconsistent implementation” of scheduling policy that impeded Veterans Affairs medical centers from “scheduling timely medical appointments.” In conclusion, the report said, “Ultimately, VHA’s ability to ensure and accurately monitor access to timely medical appointments is critical to ensuring quality health care to veterans, who may have medical conditions that worsen if access is delayed.”

More important, the report, which wasn’t released until after the VA committee had already held its last hearing for the year, wasn’t the subject of a VA committee hearing until March 14, 2013, when Braley was no longer a committee member. We also reviewed the hearing transcripts of the veterans committees that Braley sat on in 2011 and 2012, and we did not find that the issue of long wait times for health care was ever the subject of those hearings. So Braley didn’t have an opportunity to ignore any warnings that may have been offered.

— D’Angelo Gore, with Eugene Kiely and Lauren Shapiro