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Kirkpatrick Defends Action on VA Reform

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is airing campaign ads touting her demands for “immediate” action to address the veterans health-care crisis, a claim her Republican challenger is calling revisionist history.

Arizona Democrats in two key swing races Kirkpatrick and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema are promoting their actions to reform the embattled agency in campaign ads.

The issue provides a powerful opportunity to appeal to crossover voters. In a midterm election that favors Republicans, Kirkpatrick and Sinema must sway centrist Republicans and independents to win their competitive races.

Kirkpatrick says in the 30-second ad, dubbed “Immediate answers,” that she pushed quickly for changes after The Arizona Republic revealed whistle-blower allegations that the hospital delayed care for sick veterans and kept wait times on secret lists.

“I’ll never forget the day I learned about the shameful practices at the Phoenix VA, another example of Washington bureaucracy failing Arizona,” Kirkpatrick says in the spot. “I demanded immediate answers.”

 

Kirkpatrick, who represents the rural eastern Arizona 1st Congressional District, is a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. In the wake of the Phoenix scandal, she helped hammer out a bipartisan compromise between House and Senate versions of a bill to improve patient care at VA clinics and introduced legislation to protect whistle-blowers.

She held at least nine meetings in her district with veterans organizations and community leaders to provide information about VA reform, a campaign spokesman said.

But Republican opponent, Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin, says Kirkpatrick was too slow to respond.

The original VA whistle-blower, Dr. Sam Foote, said he contacted Kirkpatrick’s office several times before the scandal broke to seek action on his allegations.

Kirkpatrick’s chief of staff took a week to respond and then didn’t hear back from Foote. The doctor said he moved on because he found a champion in the Republican chair of the committee.

Kirkpatrick’s chief of staff sent the allegations to committee investigators and was notified that an investigation was underway. Kirkpatrick’s office also requested that the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General thoroughly complete a review.

Tobin says Kirkpatrick’s argument that she sought “immediate answers” is untrue. “It’s a slap in the face to the very veterans who suffered while her office failed to immediately respond to warnings from the VA whistle-blower,” Tobin said in a statement.

Tobin said Kirkpatrick didn’t do enough to address the Phoenix VA problems that occurred under her watch as the only Arizona member of the House veterans panel. “Now, with an election weeks away, Congresswoman Kirkpatrick is attempting to revise history and use our veterans as a political ploy,” Tobin said.

Kirkpatrick’s ad is unclear in its portrayal of when she discovered the whistle-blower allegations.

When Kirkpatrick says “I’ll never forget the day,” the ad displays an April 23 CNN.com news story.

However, CNN’s coverage came nearly two weeks after The Republic‘s first reporting on the crisis, on April 10, and more than two months after Foote first contacted Kirkpatrick’s office.

Kirkpatrick campaign spokesman D.B. Mitchell said the congresswoman was briefed about Foote’s allegations soon after her chief of staff received the Feb. 24 e-mail. Kirkpatrick then directed her staff to respond, which was delayed by a March 3 snowstorm that closed federal offices, Mitchell said.

Kirkpatrick’s office did react quickly to The Republic‘s breaking coverage. On April 10, Kirkpatrick’s office issued a statement calling the allegations “appalling” and included a letter from Kirkpatrick to then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki reiterating her request for a thorough Inspector General review of the whistle-blower claims.

Mitchell said Tobin’s attack is old and flimsy.

This summer, Tobin accused Kirkpatrick of knowing about the VA scandal for months and doing nothing. Azcentral Fact Check rated that claim as false.

Tobin’s criticisms are similar to accusations Sinema faced from her Republican opponent after airing a hard-hitting VA reform ad.

Sinema featured the parents of a veteran who committed suicide. They praised the ways she has pushed for bipartisan reform. Sinema criticized the VA for ignoring the veteran and contributing to his death.

Sinema’s Republican opponent, Wendy Rogers, said the ad was “vile.” She said Sinema hadn’t done enough to prevent the crisis on her watch. The hospital is in Sinema’s 9th Congressional District.

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