House Veterans' Affairs chairman decries waste, lavish conference costs
The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said Wednesday that an inspector general’s report on Department of Veterans Affairs spending on conferences raises questions about its leadership’s ability to cope with problems faced by the people it serves.
“Disappointed is a polite word to describe my thoughts about this,” Rep. Jeff Miller, (F-Fla.) said at a joint hearing with the House and Senate veterans affairs committees to hear legislative requests from the American Legion.
Miller said the conferences, which included what the VA Office of Inspector General described as up to $762,000 in unauthorized or wasteful spending, pointed to a “leadership void” at VA.
“Without strong leadership at VA, I am concerned that some of the best ideas we put forth will never realize their full potential,” Miller added. “VA is facing major obstacles – a backlog that continues to grow exponentially, a mental health care crisis, bureaucracy, and now this latest report that VA employees went on a spending spree with veterans health-care funding.”
The VA has said the report’s findings “represent serious lapses in oversight, judgment, and stewardship” and that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has taken steps to address the problems through improved accountability.
Shinseki “has taken immediate action to address the issues outlined in the IG report to strengthen oversight, improve accountability, safeguard taxpayer dollars and help ensure such incidents do not occur again,” the VA statement said.
In its testimony, the American Legion listed jobs creation and the reduction of the disability backlog as among its top priorities.
“Veterans are tired of hearing how the government is working on ending a backlog that continues to grow,” said national commander James E. Koutz.
Verna Jones, director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion, told the committees that the VA needs to improve services for female veterans. “We want VA to understand women are a big part of our military force and when we come home, we want to be cared for,” she said.