Reality Check

Reality Check: Feingold Touts Support Of Veterans

Veterans Considered Key Group In November Election

MADISON, Wis. - This fall, News 3 is analyzing the claims made by politicians in TV ads. In our Reality Check series, News 3 focuses on an ad from U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold that features his supporters praising him.

Feingold has two ads on the air touting his support of veterans, a key group in the November election. To get his message across, he uses the veterans themselves, like Keith Kruel and John Moses.

In a Feingold ad Kruel states, "I'm grateful for Sen. Feingold co-sponsoring legislation to provide an additional $2.7 billion for the Veteran Affairs."

The first sentence is a claim about protecting veteran rights. Feingold was one of 17 Democratic senators to try to provide $2.7 billion more for the VA in March of 2004.

The statement is true and to pay for it, Feingold would have rolled back the president's tax cuts for people making more than $1 million a year. The measure failed 53 votes to 44 votes.

The next claim hit close to home in Madison.

"It was Russ who led the fight to stop the closing of the VA Hospital in Madison," said Moses.

When an independent government commission put the VA Hospital in Madison on a list of possible changes or closures, Feingold, along with almost every other member of the state delegation, wrote letters to the Department of Veterans Affairs. They requested no cuts in service or mission.

Ultimately, that's what happened. The VA decided to cut costs in other areas of the country.

"Sen. Feingold introduced legislation to shorten the claim time for veterans, which was a problem, and he was very successful," said Kruel.

That claim needs clarification. Feingold did introduce legislation to address the problem, but it never passed.

In October of 1999, Feingold co-sponsored a bill with then-Sen. John Ashcroft. It would have required the VA to build a plan to train claims adjusters and improve timeliness and accuracy of claims processing. However, it never made it out of committee.

In November of 2001, Feingold tried again with Senate Bill 1656. It also never made it out of committee, so it raises the question how Kruel can claim that Feingold was "very successful" if the law didn't pass.

The number of outstanding claims has been reduced from a high of 432,000 down to about 250,000. VA officials said it's because the secretary decided to do it and not that it was a congressional mandate. However, Feingold said his political pressure, in part, moved the issue along.

Finally, Moses said he's proud the Veterans of Foreign Wars endorsed Feingold. That's true.

In addition, Feingold is trying to show he stands with veterans and supports their issues. However, two veterans groups rate Feingold as average.

The American Legion gave Feingold a 50 percent rating in 2003. It's about average for Republicans and Democrats.

The Military Officers Association of America asked for sponsorship on six bills. Feingold again rated at 50 percent in 2004. Republicans averaged 47 percent and Democrats 76 percent.

Again, veterans are seen as a key constituency in many tight races, which is why campaigns work so hard for their support.

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