In his first public appearance since dropping from the U.S. Senate race Aug. 7, Sen. John Walsh met with Missoula community leaders in the first of three planned visits to Montana cities today to address problems related to Social Security and Medicare.
In a press conference after the meeting, Walsh reiterated that the plagiarism charges had become a distraction in his election bid, and he wants to focus on completing his Senate term.
The U.S. Army War College Academic Review Board is currently reviewing the charges that Walsh plagiarized over 25 percent of his 2007 research paper, which was the final paper he completed to earn his master’s degree.
“That process is ongoing,” Walsh said. “I’m cooperating with the Army War College. We’ll see what happens when the process is complete.”
The senator had little comment on who he thought would replace him, saying only that the nomination convention would be “a very transparent process.”
Montana Democrats must name a replacement candidate by Aug. 21. The party will hold a nomination convention in Helena, Mont., on Aug. 9 .
Walsh emphasized that his family was already moving past the plagiarism scandal.
“Our son deployed twice to Iraq, and that was pretty tough on a family, when you send your son or daughter to a combat environment for a year.” Walsh said. “I’m very fortunate that I have a strong support network.”
Along with Social Security and Medicare issues, Walsh said he wants to concentrate on veteran suicide, and announced a bill called the Suicide Prevention for America's Veterans Act, which he says has bipartisan support.
"In my remaining time as Senator, I want to do everything I can to shore those programs up,” Walsh said.
Walsh, who is a member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, heard concerns from 15 leaders of several organizations, including Missoula Aging Services, Community Medical Center, Missoula Senior Center, Missoula Food Bank, and Experience Works.
Most of the concerns centered around funding for Social Security and Medicare, access to social security offices, and difficulties using government websites.
Walsh said the trend in Washington D.C. is moving more toward online administration for government social benefits, as well as agriculture programs.
"That doesn’t really work well in a rural state like Montana,” Walsh said. "We don’t have the connectivity.”