Democrats accuse U.S. Rep. Benishek of voting against VA fixes

MARQUETTE – The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accused U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls Monday of voting several times against measures which would have helped fix patient backlog problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

On Friday, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in the wake of a widening scandal focused on wait times for veterans to see doctors, which recently erupted from a veterans hospital in Phoenix. The issue is the latest problem reported from the agency embattled for its inefficiencies over the past several decades.

In a news release, the committee detailed several Benishek votes from 2011 to 2013. Benishek was elected to Congress in 2010 and is seeking re-election to the 1st Congressional District, which includes all of the Upper Peninsula and several counties in the northern Lower Peninsula.

The committee said that as House Republicans “shamelessly try to score political points over the crisis in veterans care” Benishek’s votes “tell the true story of his record: when he had a chance to fix this problem, he voted against the fixes.”

“It’s a shame that when Congressman Benishek had a chance to do something to help shorten the wait time at the VA, he voted no,” said Josh Schwerin of the committee. “Congressman Benishek voted against a commonsense solution to this problem and our heroes deserve better.”

Among its list, the committee said Benishek voted last year to block the Veterans Backlog Reduction Act, against increasing funds to reduce the backlog in veterans disability claims and against protecting veterans during September’s government shutdown.

In 2012, Benishek voted against increasing housing assistance for veterans and voted against increasing funding for veterans medical and prosthetic research, the committee said.

In 2011, he voted in favor of an amendment making it harder for low-income veterans and Social Security recipients to retain an attorney in civil action against the U.S.; voted against protecting mortgage relief for veterans and active duty service members and voted for a spending bill which would have eliminated $75 million to be used to house homeless veterans, according to the committee.

Shelby Hodgkins, Benishek’s press secretary, responded detailing some of Benishek’s votes aiding veterans. Benishek was a surgeon at the VA hospital in Iron Mountain from 1990 until 2010.

“Doctor Benishek doesn’t need a lesson on veteran care from Nancy Pelosi’s political arm in Washington. As a former VA surgeon for two decades he’s seen firsthand the lack of accountability in the VA hierarchy and bureaucracy,” Hodgkins said. “He was fighting it back then to better serve his patients and he’s fighting it now serving on the House Veteran Committee. He’s been leading the fight from day one to bring light to the VA failures as he continues to help veterans by bringing true accountability to the VA.”

Hodgkins said as Michigan’s only member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Benishek has continually supported funding increases for the VA. She said this year, Benishek supported funding legislation to provide $158.2 billion to the VA in 2015, a $10.3 billion increase over 2014 and a nearly 50 percent increase since 2009.

Hodgkins said more than a year ago, Benishek introduced the Demanding Accountability for Veterans Act to hold managers within the VA accountable for failing to solve problems. The bipartisan bill was passed unanimously by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.