DENVER - U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn says he must juggle his time sitting on three committees and six subcommittees at Capitol Hill, but his opponents are questioning why he's missed more than half of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs meetings in the past two years.
"Sometimes three will meet at the same time," Lamborn said. "There is a constant allocation of time."
Democrat Irv Halter, who is challenging Lamborn in November, says Lamborn's attendance record reflects the congressman's priorities.
"He claims he's the ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and yet when there were hearings . he either wasn't there or he didn't have anything to say," Halter said. "Everybody has to make choices. Congressman Lamborn has shown through his actions that veterans are not his top priority."
Halter, a retired Air Force two-star general, said that's unacceptable in a congressional district that has nearly 100,000 veterans.
Lamborn provided The Gazette with a detailed list of scheduling conflicts that kept him from each of the meetings he missed. He had conflicting committee meetings for 17 of the 19 meetings he missed, including budget hearings for the Department of Defense.
During the other two meetings, the records indicate Lamborn was flying to Washington, D.C., at the time.
Lamborn also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Natural Resources. When he can't attend a meeting, Lamborn said he has a staff member there to take notes.
From January 2013 to June 20, the congressman attended 14 of 33 full committee hearings, according to The Gazette's detailed review of meeting videos and minutes from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Lamborn's records indicate he attended two additional meetings April 3, one briefly, but The Gazette was unable to verify his attendance at those two meetings.
In May, a federal investigation uncovered a secret wait list at the Phoenix VA Health Care System that had about 1,700 veterans who were waiting for appointments. Subsequent investigations found records were falsified to hide long wait lists for treatment across the health care system for America's veterans.
Since the scandal broke, Lamborn's attendance record at VA committee meetings vastly improved. Between May 8 when the committee considered issuing a subpoena to get critical information about the care of veterans and June 20, Lamborn missed only one of seven meetings. Before that, records show he had attended one full committee meeting in four months.
Since June 20, Lamborn has attended seven additional hearings, his spokesman Jarred Rego said.
Halter said that spike in attendance proves Lamborn is "shooting behind the target."
"You can't wait for a crisis to develop," Halter said. "If you are deeply involved with things from early on, you get ahead of problems instead of waiting . sure he's involved now because it's an election year."
The VA committee hearings have been covered by the media since the scandal broke, and attendance at the meetings overall has increased significantly, a review by The Gazette showed. There are 25 members on the committee. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned amid the scandal.
And the VA House and Senate committees launched a joint committee to hammer out legislation in response to the crisis. Lamborn was one of eight Republicans appointed to the joint committee.
"I would not have been selected on the VA conference committee if I wasn't effective and respected," he said.
Lamborn was accused of attending a handful of the committee meetings during a primary debate in June against Republican challenger Bentley Rayburn, but the numbers used in that debate were not accurate because of incomplete records online and errors in attendance keeping.
Contact Megan Schrader