VA accounting questioned after IG report

VA accounting questioned after IG report

The chairman and ranking members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee are demanding a complete accounting of where and how the Department of Veterans Affairs has spent money on employee conferences since 2009.

The latest demand comes as the committee’s senior members released additional information gleaned from a preliminary VA Inspector General’s report on two Orlando, Fla., conferences held for VA human resources employees in 2011.

Among the findings, the VA spent $52,000 producing two 8-minute videos in which an actor portraying Army Gen. George Patton laid out the role of VA human resources personnel and exhorted them to meet their mission. A shortened version of the video is available below.


The department also spent $84,000 on VA-branded promotion items, including up to $25,000 for pens, highlighters, post-it notes and hand sanitizers.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., want three years worth of data because they say past VA testimony on conference costs has been contradictory, ranging from $20 million in both 2011 and 2012, to $100 million.

In an Aug. 16 letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, they wrote the testimony suggests the VA may not have any reliable data on conference expenditures, which calls into question whether the department’s financial controls “ever existed, whether they exist now, and who should be held accountable.”

The congressmen earlier this month blasted the VA when they revealed, based on the IG findings, that the department spent anywhere from $3 million to $9 million on employee conferences in Orland, Fla.

The IG report noted that the conferences themselves were for legitimate training purposes, but that employees received improper gratuities of alcohol, gift baskets, concert tickets, embroidered pillow cases, spa treatments, stretch limo transportation and even helicopter rides.

“If the results of the IG investigation are upheld, this represents an egregious misuse of funds meant to provide for the care of America’s veterans,” Miller said at the time.

In their Aug. 16 letter to Shinseki, Miller and Filner cited prior testimony indicating that about $20 million was budgeted in 2011 and again in 2012 for conferences, but noted that the VA’s chief financial officer said 2011 conferences costs were “a little over $100 million.”

Even if the lower amount is accurate, Miller and Filner said, “it raises the questions about the propriety of the HR conferences in Orlando consuming anywhere from 25 to 45 percent of the VA’s entire conference budget for the year.”

The apparent over-the-top spending and allegations of employees improperly receiving gifts come as Congress has criticized the VA for failing to address veterans’ disability claims or get veterans medical care in a timely fashion. Some veterans have reported waiting more than two years for their claims to be processed by the VA.

Shinseki said in a statement after the IG preliminary findings were made public, the actions alleged in the report were “unacceptable” and he vowed to hold accountable anyone who misused taxpayer funds or violated the department’s standards of conduct.

He also said the VA had already stripped purchasing authority from employees in the work unit under investigation, and that there would be an independent review of all training policies and procedures, as well as of scheduled training conferences. Those are to be completed by mid-November.

All VA personnel involved with the planning and carrying out training conferences and with the recertification of contract specialists will also be required to undergo ethics training, Shinseki said.

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Basic Fiscal Law violations.

Congress’s own spending on themselves dwarfs anything VA is doing here. This is just showboating.

First Dave, so true, so true, not excusing it, but talk about the pot calling the kettle black…

Congress should limit themselves to a 1.7% increase in their & their staffs salaries this next fiscal year. Yes, I did say Fiscal, which means they would have to hold public hearings, open to the media & public, around April or May, before the fiscal year starts. This is also known in the business world as a “Performance Review”. Did each individual(Congressperson/Senator) meet the goals they set out the previous Fiscal Year. If they did not, no raise, Better yet BYE BYE>

I can see where the VA might have a problem figuring out where all the money has gone, as they can’t even figure out how to apply my health insurance company payments to my VA account! I end up paying for my prescriptions and office visit copays and the VA just stuffs most of the money from the insurance company payments into their pockets. I’ve complained several times and even when they do an audit, all of the money STILL isn’t put toward my account. I guess I am just wasting my money on the insurance premiums, as the only ones that benefit from me having the insurance coverage are the folks at the VA who are getting the payments! Don’t get me wrong, I still get a good deal from the VA — inexpensive prescription medicine and excellent healthcare, but the insurance payments would normally cover most of my out of pocket expenses if they were properly applied to my account.

they wont get a pay raise this year their pay was frozen because of the “cliff”

Maybe they used the money they didn’t use to pay Veterans for travel to the VA Regional Offices. If you didn’t ask for one, you didn’t get one, but if you didn’t know that they were paying for the travel, how do you know to ask for one? Yeah, let’s just rip off the Veterans and Disabled Veterans and use that money for their outlandish parties. Granted, the hotels are cheaper in resort areas because the volume of people that come to visit there, just like in Las Vegas. It is cheaper, which is a good thing. I just object to using the savings for things not associated or needed for a conference and vendors are always trying to give things to government employees. All of the employees that received “gifts” or other items from the contractors should be punished, fired and made to pay for the gifts and have to pay taxes on whatever they got. I once won something in a raffle that was donated by a company, but I gave it away right away to someone not working for the government that should have been the ones eligible for it and declined any other raffle items I won all throughout my career. Shameful, just shameful. We have serious health problems with limited funds to treat us and won’t get our claims processed correctly and this type of activity goes on. What is the next shoe to drop with the VA?

Have NYU run the VA.

love it!!!!

I meant they didn’t give you a voucher for your travel money if you don’t ask for it. How do you know to ask for it if you don’t know there was one there for you? One of the employees told me if we didn’t ask for it, we didn’t get it, but more importantly, what happened to the money? If we didn’t get it, who did? Maybe someone got an award for saving money by ripping off the Veterans. I call that “theft by taking”, which is a crime but no one will get in trouble for it because they saved money. Great. Next thing you know they will be throwing outrages parties at conferences and abusing their privileges of going someplace else for a conference. I worked for a couple of Federal Agencies and I cannot figure out how they could spend over $100 million dollars for conferences. I would have thought $10 million beyond the pale, but $100 million? Where did all the money go? Who has it? I know it is hard to spend $100 million dollars on conferences, but they supposedly did it. Where is the money? What did it go for? Who got what and how much? I think some people got some serious kickbacks if they spent that kind of money. Now I know why they keep denying my valid service-connected claims, it’s so they can throw outrageous parties at our expense. That money should have gone to people like me with claims they just decide they don’t want to pay. All of the Veteran Organizations should be screaming about this, but maybe their people went to it as well and that’s why they don’t? What a scam. Deny, Deny, Deny, then Deny Again is their motto, but we could add that they also have outlandish conferences and spend the money they Denied the Veterans like me. I demand that they account for all the money and publish what they spent it on and whoever got improper “gifts” or kickbacks, they be fired and yes you can fire them. There are three things that you can fire someone for without much documentation. They are porn on your government computer, fraud/theft, and insubordination. Those three pretty much have it covered and the people who threw this party and benefited from it personally should be fired. If I did that when I worked for the government, I would have been fired for sure. Shameful, just shameful. Criminal, just CRIMINAL.….

I missed out on travel pay for hundreds, possibly thousands of miles because I didn’t know I was eligible. When I heard about the travel pay, I asked about it. All the VA told me was, “you snooze…you lose!”

Rick,

Push the issue. They have records of your appointments and when you went there and the treatment you received, so push the issue with them or go to the newspapers and tell them. Might be time for another VA spotlight on their excesses and how they rip of Disabled Veterans!!!

I have a great idea…Let’s have the conference in the middle of winter in Omaha NE or Wichita KS without the benefits and grab bags that have been given out and see how much interest there is in going to these conferences then. Most of the people going to these types of things go for the vacation involved. So take away the vacation portion of it, make them pay for their own way to the conference and forget the goodies. Then maybe we will have the people in the position to do the job they were hired to do and service our veterans who serviced this country.

Nail on the head ‘First Dave’, rich coming from them I must admit.

It has been my experience that if you want to keep highly qualified Doctors and other licensed individuals you have to pay for conferences. This happens to be where they keep up to date and earn credits toward keeping up there license. All hospitals provide this perk and it cost plenty. The VA may be going overboard. The costs are very high because the conferences use expensive hotels etc. Have been to many.

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