The Department of Veterans Affairs has a history of mismanagement and wasted resources, but Congress is attempting to address the root of the problem with the VA Accountability First Act of 2017.
Since 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget has grown by nearly 86 percent. That is significant growth, especially considering the VA’s 2017 budget totals a whopping $182.3 billion—an increase of 4.9 percent from 2016. But despite its growing budget, it seems like every day there’s a new story of resources being wasted at the expense of veterans’ care.
That’s because the core of this problem is the VA not holding its leaders and employees accountable for the bad decisions they make.
Consider these examples of senseless spending:
- VA hospital being built in Aurora, Colo: The need for a new hospital in the area was identified almost two decades ago, but what was initially expected to cost $604 million to build has exploded to $1.7 billion. And it’s not because the facility will include special equipment or resources for veterans—it’s because of the building’s unusual design which one contractor compared to a “shopping mall.” The worst part, though, is veterans will continue waiting another year and a half to use the facility.
- $20 million on artwork: That’s how much the department spent between 2004 and 2014. The Palo Alto Healthcare System alone spent more than $6 million, including a $280,000 installation on a parking garage wall. The project, meant to honor blind veterans by featuring quotes in Morse code, is a light-up display.
It’s mind blowing that this amount of waste can happen. It’s the reason why Congress should pass the VA Accountability First Act of 2017—this legislation is desperately needed because it’s almost impossible to fire bad VA employees who misuse resources.
It also places restrictions on the amount of bonuses the VA can award to executives and employees. In FY2015, the department gave out more than $177 million in bonuses to nearly 189,000 employees.
Financial incentives are a good way to boost morale, but the VA gave bonuses to people who don’t deserve them:
- Dr. Darren Deering, who served as chief of staff at the Phoenix VA, received a $5,000 bonus just three months before he was fired for negligence and lack of oversight.
- Stella S. Fiotes, the executive director of VA’s Office of Construction and Facilities and in charge of overseeing the Aurora hospital’s construction—now over budget and behind schedule—received more than $18,000.
The consequences of the VA’s wasted resources are seen in the veterans who have died waiting for care. And those who travel hours to a hospital because the facility closest to them is still under construction. And those who have been denied claims because of lost paperwork.
It’s time for the VA’s history of waste and unaccountable workers to come to an end. Congress needs to pass the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 to ensure veterans’ needs are prioritized ahead of department bureaucrats’ wants.