Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, (R) and Sen. Mark Begich, D-AK, speak to the media about stall tactics employed by the Republican minority to stall a defense spending bill ultimately in an effort to stall or kill health care reform on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 18, 2009. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg | License Photo
WASHINGTON, May 28 (UPI) -- It was only a matter of time before the scandal plaguing the VA surfaced in an attack ad for the midterms.
A television spot titled A National Disgrace, produced by Crossroads GPS, accuses Alaska Democrat Sen. Mark Begich of standing idly by as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee while veterans waited months for care.
"Veterans died waiting for care that never came," the ad's narrator says. "Sen. Mark Begich sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee. His response? If there's a problem, they need to fix it."
If there's a problem? Four years ago, the VA inspector general failed the Anchorage VA office in 13 of 14 areas. Now some senators are blocking bipartisan legislation to shake up the VA and enforce accountability. Tell Sen. Begich: When veterans are dying, it is a problem."
An independent report released Wednesday found the allegations against the Phoenix VA hospital were true, in that veterans wait times were significantly longer than the official numbers, but the deaths of 40 veterans have not been positively connected to the extended wait times.
And Begich himself expressed outrage that previous reports of problems had been left unanswered. At a Veterans Affairs committee hearing earlier this month, Begich peppered VA Secretary Eric Shinseki with questions about whether anyone had been held accountable for the wait time manipulation in Phoenix or elsewhere throughout the VA system.
"I know you talked about the 3,000 people you have moved, dismissed, retired, whatever," he said. "I want to know specifically on this issue, have you ever fired anybody on this issue, when you find out that they're not -- they've manipulated the records? Because to me, it's the fundamental question. Because if it's just shifted around, then we're not changing the system to improve it."
"As a former mayor, I would fire them. They'd be gone," Begich told Shinseki. "And sometimes, you've got to have some heads roll in order to get the system to shape up. Because they know, 'well, I'm just going to get transferred or I'm on leave, I still get paid,' what's the real penalty?"