Fact Check: Senate candidate’s Tweet misses the mark


U.S. Senate candidate Troy Downing, who is running in the Republican primary, pulled a Tweet that included a questionable claim about Sen. Jon Tester.

Editor’s note: This is the first offering, from the Montana Free Press, of what will likely be many reports fact-checking the claims and statements of candidates, campaigns and third-party political groups in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections.

Montana Republican Senate Candidate Troy Downing deleted a Tweet on Wednesday that falsely claimed that “The VA in #Montana has been caught hiring doctors with revoked licenses from other states & former felons.”

Downing is among four Republicans vying for their party’s nomination to challenge Tester in the Nov. 6 midterm election.

Downing’s tweet included a link to a December 2017 USA Today report about a doctor who is licensed in Montana and once practiced in Billings, but was not a VA employee in Montana. (The doctor, neurosurgeon John Henry Schneider, has been licensed to practice medicine in Montana since 1997. According to the Board of Medical Examiners, that license is set to expire on March 31). The USA Today report did not include any information about the Montana VA hiring doctors with revoked licenses or felons.

The tweet lays blame for the VA hiring scandal at the feet of incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, who is the ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The Montana Free Press responded to Downing’s tweet requesting source information to corroborate his claim. Shortly after that the tweet was deleted.

Reached by email, Downing’s campaign manager, Kevin Gardner, said:

“Thanks for pointing that out, it has been corrected to say the VA, not the Montana VA. But the point is the VA is the VA and Jon Tester is the #2 guy on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and under his watch the VA has hired doctors with licenses revoked and former felons.”

A few days after USA Today investigation was published, Tester sent a letter to Dr. Carolyn Clancy, executive in charge, Veterans Health Administration, urging her to give medical directors “clear and direct guidance about compliance with existing Federal law as well as their responsibility to hire qualified clinicians who will not abuse the trust of our nation’s veterans.”

We rate Downing’s initial claim via Twitter that “The VA in #Montana has been caught hiring doctors with revoked licenses from other states & former felons” FALSE.

While its true Tester sits on a committee that has oversight of Veterans Affairs Administration, it’s a quite a leap to suggest that an individual U.S. senator is responsible for auditing the payrolls and hiring practices of executive branch agencies. Besides, using Gardner’s logic, the “#1 guy on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee,” Republican Johnny Isakson, of Georgia, should bear more responsibility than Tester, “the #2 guy.”

Had Tester failed to take action once hiring practices were revealed, the hashtag “#TesterFail” might be more appropriate. In this case, given that Tester did take action after learning of the hiring practices, we rate the follow-up claim that “under [Tester’s] watch the VA has hired doctors with licenses revoked and former felons” as MOSTLY FALSE.

John Adams is the founding editor of The Montana Free Press, where this story was first published. The story on the Free Press site includes numerous links to documents connected to the case.

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