Veterans issues took center stage of the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire yesterday, with incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen calling for passage of legislation that expands access to care for veterans and Republican challenger Scott Brown launching a new ad and kicking off an “Honoring our Veterans” tour.
Care for veterans is a potent issue this campaign cycle given the news earlier this year that veterans across the country faced major wait times at Veterans Affairs hospitals and, sometimes, died while waiting for care. Shaheen is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Brown served on that committee as well as the Veterans Affairs Committee while a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Brown recently retired from the Army National Guard after serving for 35 years, and Shaheen’s husband, Billy, is an Army veteran.
Brown’s Republican opponents have also focused on veterans issues. Bob Smith served in Vietnam, and Jim Rubens has called for a voucher program that would allow for veterans to get care at the hospital of their choice.
Shaheen’s event in Concord included endorsements from a bipartisan group of veterans and a call for the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a VA reform bill written by U.S. Sens. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent. Shaheen and fellow U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, included language in the bill that says veterans in states without full-service veterans hospitals who live more than 20 miles from one can get care at private hospitals. New Hampshire has a VA hospital in Manchester but it is not full service, so veterans who need certain specialized care have to travel to Massachusetts or Vermont for that care. (In the U.S. House, Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is pushing a companion provision, which is similar to a bill she first introduced in 2008.)
The veterans who came to support Shaheen talked about her previous efforts to help veterans throughout her political career in New Hampshire. Several spoke about her work to bring an aerial refueler to the Pease Air National Guard Base on Portsmouth. Col. Gail Prince of Bedford said Shaheen asked her to participate in a meeting on the VA and personally called her several days later to follow up on the meetings’ results. Barry Conway, former commandant of the New Hampshire Veterans Home, recalled how when Shaheen was governor, she pushed lawmakers to find money to build a state veterans cemetery, located in Boscawen. Earlier in the campaign, Shaheenreleased a television ad about a new VA clinic opening in Keene.
Shaheen also received an enthusiastic endorsement from Jim Steiner, a U.S. Army captain and lifelong Republican who ran for Congress in 2008.
“New Hampshire has two great U.S. senators, and it is my pleasure to tell you there’s no reason to change courses in midstream and that I fully support the re-election of Senator Jeanne Shaheen,” Steiner said.
Later in the day, the New Hampshire Chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War honored Shaheen at their monthly meeting with her efforts to secure medals for them.
Brown, meanwhile, began airing a new television ad and kicked off a tour of veterans homes across the state, starting with Harbor Homes in Nashua. In the ad, Brown says the policies of Shaheen and President Obama are responsible for the scandal at the VA as well as veterans who can’t find jobs.
“I’ll get health care back on track and focus on more good jobs for everyone, because no one should fight for America overseas, only to return home and fight for respect here,” Brown says.
Brown toured two Harbor Homes buildings with staff, asking about the funding, length of stay and services provided at the homes. Harbor Homes provides transitional housing for veterans and their families. He also spoke with several veterans, including a young man who showed Brown his room and promised to offer a critique of Brown’s book, which Brown signed and gave to him.
Brown also spoke with David Morin, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam and lives at Harbor Homes. They talked briefly about their military service (Morin entered the Army at age 17) and Morin told Brown he’d vote for him. Access to health care is the most pressing issue veterans face, Morin said.
Brown is “one of the candidates that I do know is for the veterans,” Morin said. “He is a veteran, and he knows how difficult it is for us. He’ll do good.”
While in the Senate, Brown co-sponsored a bill to encourage businesses to hire veterans by offering tax credits, which Shaheen also co-sponsored. Brown’s primary opponent, Rubens, has criticized Brown and Shaheen for failing to take action when previous VA problems were reported. But Brown said the failure to fix problems was a result of lack of leadership and too much red tape.
When asked whether he supports Shaheen’s and Ayotte’s language in the VA reform bill that would allow New Hampshire veterans to get care at private hospitals, Brown first pointed to Shaheen’s failure to bring a full-service veterans hospital here. During her 2008 campaign, Shaheen attacked then-Sen. John E. Sununu for failing to bring one to New Hampshire. Then Brown said he has advocated for allowing the VA to let veterans obtain specialized service at non-VA hospitals.
“Is it a card we give them? Is it just a money transfer where that veteran or soldier goes to ‘x’ hospital because there’s nothing within 20 or 30 minutes? Sure, they’re all great ideas,” he said. “But here we are, we’re reacting and we’ve known about this for quite a while, here we are waiting until people die before they actually do something, and it’s that rubber-stamp mentality where people aren’t pushing, questioning.”
Rubens has held several meetings and events with veterans during his campaign. In early June, he named Richard Brothers, a Marine Corps. veteran, as the veterans coalition director of his campaign. Brothers is former commissioner of New Hampshire Employment Security.