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Hawaii Dem Skipped VA Hearing to Surf the Waves

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"[I]t would have been disruptive and disrespectful to just show up at the end..."

A House Democrat from Hawaii didn't attend a hearing on veterans' access to healthcare back in August because she was being profiled for an article and video profile about surfing by Yahoo News.

According to the Honolulu Civil Beat, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) originally told the paper that she missed the August 19 hearing because she was "delayed in another meeting." But the paper later realized the hearing and her surfing interview were on the same day.

gabbardsurf Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) chose surfing over attending a VA hearing in Hawaii back in August.
Image credit: Yahoo News

When asked again, her office acknowledged that Gabbard was hoping to attend both the surf profile and the hearing, but said the Yahoo crew was stuck in traffic, which led her to miss the VA hearing.

"Once Congresswoman Gabbard realized how late she would be, she decided not to go because she felt it would have been disruptive and disrespectful to just show up at the end," her office told the Civil Beat.

Gabbard's office said it is "reviewing our scheduling process" in light of the incident.

Gabbard, along with most other members of the House, has called on the new secretary of Veterans Affairs to quickly reform the department to ensure veterans can quickly get access to health care. The VA has been mired in a scandal involving efforts to downplay the wait times veterans faced waiting for doctors, and efforts to cover up the scandal in some regional offices.

In the last few months, complaints have increased about the failure of the VA to fire anyone involved in the scandal, or against people who were harassed for trying to blow the whistle on the VA's various management failures.

Gabbard is a veteran who joined the Hawaii National Guard and voluntarily deployed to serve two tours in Iraq. Gabbard is seen as a strong advocate for veterans, which likely explains the many comments defending her at the bottom of the Civil Beat story. Many of the comments defend Gabbard's absence in part because it was a Senate hearing, not a House hearing.

The meeting she missed was a field hearing held by the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, on "The State of VA Health Care in Hawaii." The local report out of Hawaii said some veterans were disappointed that Gabbard did not attend, and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told the gathering that she was expecting Gabbard to show up.

Gabbard's Yahoo News profile was aimed at showing what some members of Congress do during the August break. Members often insist that the August break and other time away from Washington is not "vacation," and many have taken to calling these weeks off a "district work period."

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