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Democratic Senate hopeful Bruce Braley is being criticized for missing most of the full Veterans Affairs Committee hearings held in 2011-12, when he was on the panel.

Braley, a Democratic congressman from Waterloo, missed 15 of 20 committee meetings, including two joint sessions with the Senate, and Republicans say this shows he puts little priority on veterans issues.

The Braley camp is vigorously disputing this, arguing that he has done a lot for veterans and that Republicans are distorting his attendance record.

Veterans issues are always politically sensitive, but the recent revelations of long wait times at VA medical facilities have brought them to the forefront in the midst of this election season.

"This is where the work is done in Washington, and he doesn't show up," said Dave Kochel, a GOP strategist and an adviser to Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, who is running against Braley.

Republicans say indications of some of the problems that gained attention this year arose at some of the hearings Braley missed.

The Braley campaign says Republicans are cherry-picking data and ignoring the congressman's attendance at 15 of the 17 meetings of the VA's subcommittee on economic opportunity, where he was the ranking Democrat.

The campaign also says some of the VA hearings were in conflict with other duties, including veterans-related work, and it pointed to Braley's advocacy on such matters as fighting cuts to the Iowa National Guard and pushing legislation providing tax credits for businesses that hire veterans.

"As a veteran, I think it's wrong that Joni Ernst and her allies would try to inject partisan politics into veterans issues. To suggest that Bruce has done anything but fight for Iowa veterans is misleading and dishonest," Ron Healey, a Durango, Iowa, veteran and Braley supporter, said in a statement provided by the campaign.

Over the past couple days, Republicans have sought to ramp up criticism over Braley's hearing attendance, seizing on a Sept. 20, 2012, VA committee hearing he missed. It occurred the same day as three campaign fundraisers he attended.

"He made time to attend all three of the fundraisers. But he couldn't make time to show up at the hearing," Kochel said.

None of the fundraisers occurred at the same time as the VA meeting, and the Braley camp says he missed it because he was attending a session of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on which he also sat.

The two committee meetings occurred at roughly the same time.

Republicans and Democrats have sparred over whether Braley actually attended the oversight committee meeting. Committee documents list him as present, but Republicans say the transcript showed he asked no questions and that they reviewed videos of the hearing and did not see him there.

Asked about that, the Braley camp pointed to the Congressional Record as proof of his attendance.

The issue of legislative attendance already has cropped up in the Senate campaign. Earlier this year, during the Republican primary, Ernst was faulted for missing about 40 percent of the votes in the state Senate this year.

Some of those missed votes were because of campaign-related reasons, the Ernst campaign acknowledged, according to the Des Moines Register earlier this year. A small number also was because she was on active duty with the Iowa National Guard, according to a report in the Gazette in  Cedar Rapids.

The Ernst campaign also has said Democrats and her Republican opponents at the time were distorting her voting record and overall she has a 90 percent voting record.

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