By:  Andrew J. Wolf

As the VA backlog continues to grow, many veterans are left wondering whether reforms are anywhere in sight and what those reforms might entail. There is little doubt that substantial long-term reform is necessary, but there are solutions that the VA could implement in the short term. One of those solutions is simply to improve the quality of current administrators and ensure that the VA’s current resources are used efficiently. Recent reports from the Inspector General reveal several incidents in which the VA has exercised little oversight over its own spending or made other costly business decisions.

One such report investigated a decision to combine two VA Medical Centers in Northeast Ohio.  In 2000, the VA began considering whether to renovate the VA Medical Center in Brecksville, Ohio, or whether to merge the Brecksville facility with the Cleveland facility located 22 miles away. An aging Brecksville facility, coupled with a desire to eliminate duplicative services between the two facilities, led the VA to choose a merger.  Initial reports estimated savings of between $10 and $30 million per year. One decade and a county-wide corruption scandal later, the VA Inspector General has determined that the urban Cleveland facility lacks sufficient space; the VA underestimated the costs of consolidating the facilities; and the VA is overpaying for administrative, parking, and housing services.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the merger could cost nearly half a billion dollars over the next twenty years.

The Inspector General also investigated a VA training conference held in Orlando in response to allegations of wasteful spending.  The Inspector General’s report estimates that the conference cost the VA $6.1 million, approximately $762,000 of which was “unauthorized, unnecessary, and/or wasteful.” One of the unauthorized expenses included nearly $50,000 spent on producing a parody video of General George S. Patton.  The Inspector General cited the lack of oversight and supervision by the Assistant Secretary for Human Resources & Administration, among others, as the principle cause of the excessive expenses. The Assistant Secretary resigned prior to the release of the Inspector General’s report, but the Washington Post reports that Congressmen have asked the VA Secretary to request the resignation of John Gingrich, the VA Chief of Staff.

The Inspector General released reports about the Orlando Conference Scandal and the Cleveland Merger in the last two weeks alone. Whether these incidents arise from poor business decisions, lack of supervision, or outside corruption, the losses sustained by the VA raise serious questions about the ability of current VA administrators to efficiently use their resources.

With more and more veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, the VA will be under greater pressure to process applications for benefits, and its resources will be stretched even further. Short term reforms that ensure better management and use of resources will be vital when large scale reform appears a long way away.

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