Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) won her senate seat in part by criticizing her rival’s record on veterans’ issues. But with Hagan seeking to distance herself from deeply unpopular President Obama as he comes to Hagan’s state to address the American Legion, her critics are asking what, exactly, she did in six years in office to fix the third world-like conditions many veterans face upon returning from combat.
“The Obama Administration has not yet done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans and implement real and permanent reforms at the VA,” Hagan said in a statement, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. “I hope to hear the President address these challenges.”
Hagan has long cast herself as tough on veteran’s concerns–but like her position on healthcare and securing the border, her concern about the issue seems to correspond to how close she is to election day.
Hagan said in a 2008 campaign video:
I’ve been having town hall meetings across the state and hearing firsthand from veterans the issues that they’re facing on trying to get care at VA hospitals, trying to get into the system, once there, what some of the problems [are] and also what are some of the good things that are happening. We obviously have a lot of good things going on but there are so many issues, particularly the post-traumatic stress disorder. Right now, our military and our VA hospitals are not equipped to handle the number of people coming back. We’ve got current veterans who are actually being advocates for the military men and women coming back. It’s a huge problem, trying to navigate the system.
At the time, Hagan promised to “make it a seamless transition from the time they get out to when they get their care,” Hagan said. “That’s one of the things we got to correct.”
During the campaign against incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), Hagan released a full pro-veteran VA reform plan on her website. “To properly honor their patriotism, Kay Hagan believes that the federal government must provide to servicemembers and veterans world-class health care, a high quality of life, and protection from financial despair. As a U.S. Senator, Kay will work tirelessly to ensure that all servicemembers and veterans are appropriately recognized for their service to the country,” Hagan said then.
In addition, she attacked Dole for not prioritizing veterans as an issue while emphasizing her own personal ties to the military.
“Kay Hagan has strong ties to the military – her father, brother, father-in-law, husband and two nephews have all served in the military,” Hagan’s 2008 campaign website read. “Kay knows the importance of honoring the sacrifices of these brave men and women, and she has a commitment to keeping North Carolina ‘the most military-friendly state in the country.’ Meanwhile, Elizabeth Dole has voted with President Bush 92% of the time and has prioritized his failed agenda over health care and benefits for veterans.”
Six years later, the problems with the VA are, if anything, worse, and now her challenger is seizing on the issue.
“Kay Hagan is refusing to take any responsibility for breaking her promises to veterans, instead pointing blame at the Obama administration to distract from her own failures,” Thom Tillis’ campaign said in a statement late last week ahead of Obama’s visit to Charlotte. “After six years of watching the quality of care at the VA worsen, Hagan’s election-year rhetoric is too little, too late. Unlike Kay Hagan, Thom Tillis will constantly demand accountability and transparency from Obama and the VA to ensure that our veterans are receiving the timely and quality healthcare they deserve.”
The Fayetteville Observer reported in October, 2012 that wait times for veterans at North Carolina’s VA hospitals were “getting worse,” and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found in early 2013 that wait times reported by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) inside the VA nationally were unreliable. In May 2014, CNN uncovered “that a Durham [North Carolina] VA Medical Center employee indicated that some employees at that facility may have engaged in inappropriate scheduling practices at some point between 2009 and 2012.”
In June, 2014, local news outlet WRAL in North Carolina reported on an audit that found that the Durham facility’s wait times were in some cases up to 64 days for new patients.
“A report from the Department of Veterans Affairs says the average wait time for new patients at North Carolina VA hospitals ranged from nearly 29 days in Salisbury to 83 days in Fayetteville — the home of Fort Bragg,” WNCN, another local North Carolina outlet, added in July 2014.
As the VA fought through scandal earlier this year, Hagan issued statement after statement decrying the reported malfeasances and then, when Eric Shinseki resigned as VA secretary, she issued a double-edged statement that criticized and praised him at the same time.
“The Inspector General’s report outlining systemic problems at the VA is appalling, and I have said that we must hold those responsible accountable,” Hagan said, adding that she believes that “Secretary Shinseki has served our country honorably.”
“However, I believe his decision to step aside at this moment is appropriate and will allow the VA to move forward with new leadership to implement the necessary reforms and restore our veterans’ trust in VA leadership,” she said.
Hagan’s office did not reply to a request for comment.