- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The VA scandal is creeping into some of this year’s House and Senate races, with both liberal and conservative advocacy groups accusing incumbents of ignoring the problems that left some veterans struggling to get appointments, trapped on secret wait lists and suffering subpar health care.

Still, election analysts said that despite occupying Washington for months, the issue is not likely to play a large role in those races.

Most of the fire has come from the GOP and conservatives groups who say President Obama and his allies in Congress were asleep at the switch.

And nowhere is the battle more heated than in North Carolina, where incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is facing criticism from her GOP opponent Thom Tillis, and attack ads from Concerned Veterans for America arguing that the scandal has hit veteran-heavy North Carolina particularly hard.

“She knew about problems, but allowed things to get worse. Now our VA facilities are some of the worst in the nation,” the attack ad says.

Mr. Tillis, meanwhile, says Ms. Hagan is tied to President Obama, who was slow to act on reports of waiting lists and substandard care.

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While North Carolina has a large population of veterans, Jason Husser, an assistant professor from Elon University, said military voters who are following the VA issues and understand the complexities will likely not be swayed by the argument that one senator can be blamed for a problem at one of the largest government bureaucracies.

“I think it’s going to be a hard sell to convince voters that Hagan is somehow responsible,” he said.

The veterans issue is also playing out in Arizona, where the VA scandal first surfaced earlier this year when a whistleblower alleged that patients died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA.

Several conservative organizations are targeting Democrats for downplaying problems at their home state VA clinics or for knowing about systemic problems at the VA, but doing nothing to fix them.

Responsibility for the VA falls chiefly on Mr. Obama, who isn’t on the ballot this year, which undercuts some of the specific attacks.

Still, they could energize the GOP base to get to the polls and could affect the margins of some of the high-profile races, said Matt Dallek, an assistant professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.

“I don’t think this issue alone is going to turn any of the Senate races, but I think if you see a number of Republicans winning close Senate races then the VA scandal could be one among several factors that contributed to Obama’s low poll ratings, a sense that his second term has run around, which threw Republicans a lot of momentum politically in the midterms,” Mr. Dallek said.

Each of the Democrats targeted by the ads said that the claims in them are false. When Concerned Veterans for America spent $2.4 million on ads that alleged that Rep. Bruce Braley, Iowa Democrat, was absent for the majority of the committee’s hearings, Mr. Braley released a statement from an Army reservist in his district touting him as a champion for veterans.

And a liberal group has gotten involved in the attacks as well.

VoteVets launched a $300,000 ad this week against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, for voting against a $21 billion package that expanded several veterans programs earlier this year. Mr. McConnell released a statement from an officer at the Veterans of Foreign Wars saying that “veterans have no better friend” than the senator.

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