Begich Painted as Soft on VA Scandal

Alleging a senator is indifferent to vets is serious anywhere. Even more so in Alaska, which has the highest number of vets per capita. Anti-Begich ads, running on nearly half a million dollars of Alaska airtime, aim to plant Begich in the midst of the scandal.

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“Veterans died waiting for care that never came,” says one. “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?”

It’s paid for by Crossroads GPS, a national group running ads against Begich and for Republican challenger Dan Sullivan.  Sullivan highlighted the same Begich “if there’s a problem” quote in an op-ed published last month in the Anchorage Daily News. Sullivan says Begich acts like he’s a mere bystander to the veteran crisis.

But, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, says the ad misuses the Begich quote, which is from a Wall Street Journal story. In it, Begich says the administration should have learned its lesson from the website debacle. The exact Begich quote in the journal is:  “They should have learned from that – If there’s a problem, they need to fix it.” FactCheck says Begich did react to the VA scandal. He called for an immediate hearing, wrote then-VA secretary Eric Shinseki to express outrage, and at a hearing last month, Begich pressed Shinseki on why no one had been fired for falsifying records.

Crossroads unveiled a new TV ad this week, still painting Begich as disengaged on the scandal and suggesting that all he did was write a letter.

Begich is trying to show that he IS helping. He’s trumpeting Senate passage of a bill this week aimed at getting veterans quicker access to care. Begich says it relies on a solution he’s been pressing since he first ran for Senate in 2008 – allowing vets to make appointments at non-VA facilities.

“When I campaigned on the hero’s health card (bill), I just believed that we had a resource that we could maximize, that we could move forward on, that we could make a difference for our veterans,” he said on the Senate floor yesterday. “And we’re seeing it.”

In Alaska, the VA has agreements with Native hospitals and clinics and the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center that have reduced VA wait times to among the lowest in the country. But that brings us to another charge Begich is facing – that he claims credit for successes that weren’t his alone. Alaska Congressman Don Young knocked Begich for it in a campaign video that surfaced on YouTube this week.

“Don’t take credit for something you did not do,” Young scolded in the video. ” And when we do something together, say we did it. I think it’d be a lot better.”

 The Senate record shows Begich has pressed to have vets seen at Alaska Native health centers for years. But it also shows Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been pushing that cause since at least 2007, back when Begich was still mayor of Anchorage.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz