TO GET a good sense of why Americans are sick of Washington politics, take a close look at Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s recent television ads — currently running across New Hampshire — touting the recent passage of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reform legislation.
In the New Hampshire Democrat’s television ads, she proudly presents herself as a Senate leader in the push for reforming the troubled VA. But the reality was far less praiseworthy — as my organization knows firsthand. Shaheen did not lead the way on VA reform legislation, but instead was dragged to the issue.
From April 1-3, before the VA scandal broke, several dozen veterans from my organization, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), gathered on Capitol Hill to advocate for real VA reform. We asked for a personal meeting with hundreds of offices holders — both Democrats and Republicans. Most offices were willing to meet, like Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who met with our veterans twice over those three days. Other offices closed their doors to us — like Shaheen, who would not make time to meet.
Our goal in the meetings was to urge all senators to support VA accountability legislation (S. 2013, the VA Management Accountability Act) pending before the U.S. Senate. In many ways this legislation was the bedrock on which many of the other reforms, that eventually passed the Senate, were built. Shaheen’s ads tout support for bills born from something she had no time for.
In pushing for real management accountability at VA — meaning corrupt leaders could actually be fired — we knew we would have a fight on our hands when facing down a bureaucracy hell-bent on preventing change to their status quo. That meant going door-to-door with teams of veterans in an effort to build strong bipartisan support in the Senate and House.
When veterans needed Shaheen the most — before the bright lights exposed the VA scandal — she was missing in action. More significantly than not meeting with us, Shaheen ignored our repeated and good faith efforts both in Washington, D.C., and through our active veterans network in New Hampshire, to co-sponsor the VA accountability legislation.Soon thereafter, stymied by a lack of Senate support, we took our argument to the public. CVA ran an extensive public awareness campaign, which included television ads in New Hampshire and other states, in an effort to encourage Shaheen and other fence-sitters to co-sponsor the bill.
Suddenly, the senator was open to reform. The minute our TV ads appeared on New Hampshire airwaves, and her indifference to VA accountability was exposed in the light of day, Shaheen’s staff called us in a panic. Less than 24 hours later she was a co-sponsor of the bill. In good faith, and with our mission accomplished, we immediately pulled down the TV ads in New Hampshire.
Contrast Shaheen’s response to that of her Democratic colleague Sen. Bill Nelson, who represents the veteran-heavy state of Florida. Nelson was the first Democrat to co-sponsor the VA reform bill, giving the legislation a much-needed bipartisan boost when it mattered. Shaheen’s New Hampshire counterpart, Kelly Ayotte, was also an early supporter of the bill.
Shaheen missed her opportunity to take action on the issue, only to begrudgingly offer support after my group ran ads urging her to sign on as a co-sponsor. That’s why it’s frustrating that she now suggests in her campaign ads that she was a leader on the overall reform effort, practically taking credit for the final bill’s passage. It’s not true. She was reluctantly dragged to the right position. But once a critical mass had formed, Shaheen was happy to step to the front of the podium and claim credit for success.
The reality is that veterans are paying attention to who was there when we needed them most — as well as who did nothing when it counted but now wants to take credit, as Shaheen did on the VA reform bill. New Hampshire voters should keep this in mind as they weigh the claims by candidates on the campaign trail.
Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America and a Fox News contributor. Hegseth is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.