WATERLOO | A record of results is how two supporters characterized U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley’s commitment to veterans during his time in Congress.
Braley, a Waterloo Democrat running for U.S. Senate, recently has been criticized for absenteeism during his two-year tenure on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Most recently, the Concerned Veterans for America launched a television advertisement on the issue called “AWOL," the military acronym for "absent without leave."
On Friday, the Braley for Iowa campaign hosted a press call with two supporters to defend his time and energy to veterans’ issues while in Congress.
“Bruce’s heart is in the right place, and he’s willing to fight for people back home who have served, and that’s how you measure his commitment and success is the results that he brings for those of us back here in Iowa,” said Iowa State Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, an Iraq War veteran and major in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Prichard served an extended deployment in Iraq with the Iowa Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry regiment headquartered in Waterloo. When the unit returned in July 2007, Prichard said, Braley ensured the members got the respite pay they earned.
“I think you look at who’s funding these ads and what their agenda is,” Prichard said.
Concerned Veterans for America has ties to the network of funding sources linked to the oil industrialists Charles and David Koch.
Pete Hegseth, a combat veteran and chief executive officer of Concerned Veterans for America, dismissed criticism from the Braley camp that CVA is "another Koch brothers front group" which is releasing an ad financed by the "out-of-state oil billionaires" designed to mislead Iowans about Braley in an attempt to "buy" Iowa's U.S. Senate seat for Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst.
Hegseth said his nonprofit organization doesn't disclose who its donors are and is happy to accept resources from anyone who believes in doing the right thing by U.S. veterans.
“If they want to hide from their record by pointing fingers at people, they can try to do that. But the reality is the facts are the facts: he didn't attend 79 percent of the hearings in the VA Committee in the 112th Congress,” he said.
Hegseth said at a press conference in Des Moines on Friday that the ad is designed to change Braley's behavior regarding veterans' issues, not to defeat him in the fall election.
The Republican Party of Iowa points to a video of the congressman saying he works on behalf of veterans every day on the committee -- and contrasts that with his attendance record of less than 25 percent for full committee hearings and about 50 percent when subcommittee meetings are included.
“If Bruce Braley made time for his VA hearings, like he’s able to do for his fancy D.C. fundraisers, he would’ve heard firsthand that two-thirds of our veterans have to wait over four months to receive care from the VA,” said RPI spokesman Jahan Wilcox. “Braley’s priorities in Washington are quite simple: he’s more interested in himself than helping our veterans.”
James Billmyer, a Dubuque resident whose son Christopher was injured in Afghanistan in 2010, disagrees with the Republican Party’s assessment.
Billmyer said Braley helped the family navigate various federal bureaucracies and met with them throughout Christopher’s recovery.
“In my opinion, I think you can judge someone’s character by how they act when no one is looking, and my family knows Bruce was there when there were no cameras and no reporters and nobody commenting on his actions,” Billmyer said.