It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Last weekend, the New York Times reported that wait times of a month or more for veteran health services are actually 50 percent higher than when the scandal first broke last year.
Also, the department is facing a nearly $3 billion budget shortfall. Demand has been driven by aging Vietnam veterans and vets from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. VA officials are expected to testify in front of Congress on Thursday and will make the case that more money is needed to solve the problem.
On another front, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has written to VA Secretary Bob McDonald to demand answers about what the VA intends to do to correct the widespread use of purchase cards to buy billions of dollars worth of medical supplies without contracts.
“Before your confirmation, you pledged to me that you would clean up the VA,” Grassley wrote to McDonald on June 19, according to the Washington Post. “Unfortunately, time and again, news reports highlight instances that illustrate a continuing culture of chaos at the VA that fails our veterans.”
The letter came after Jan Frye, a VA deputy assistant secretary, described a culture of “lawlessness and chaos” at the Veterans Health Administration.
Employees in the purchasing department of a VA hospital in the Bronx, for instance, had used government purchase cards like credit cards at least 2,000 times to buy prosthetic legs and arms for veterans. Each time they swiped the cards, it was for $24,999. That was precisely one dollar below the VA’s charging limit for purchase cards.
Last week, the VA’s Inspector General reported that a breakdown of fiscal controls and a lack of oversight led to parking $43.1 million of funds for an excessive period. The VA has “parked” the money with the U.S. Government Publishing Office since 2011. “Parking” refers to the transfer of funds to a revolving fund through an intra-agency agreement in an attempt to keep the money available for work after the availability of the funds expires.