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Commander seeks answers about VA conferences

Commander seeks answers about VA conferences
VA spent nearly $52,000 on a promotional video parodying "Patton" at a human resources conference in Orlando. The total price tag for the conference was well into the millions.

Recent accounts of two multi-million-dollar VA human resources conferences last year, one of which reportedly included a $52,000 18-minute video parody of the movie “Patton,” has the leader of the nation’s largest wartime veterans organization, along with top lawmakers on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, demanding answers.

“At a time when everyone in the federal government is cutting back due to the budget deficit, it is unseemly to hear of conferences in a resort town and money spent on activities that don’t seem central to VA’s core mission,” American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong said after learning that the VA Inspector General has been investigating two VA conferences in Orlando, Fla., that rang up a reported $5 million in costs. “I don’t know how much is too much for a conference for the second largest department of the federal government, but this seems excessive, especially for a nation at war and with VA losing ground on a backlog of nearly 1 million undecided benefits claims.”

In addition to the “Patton” parody, the conferences reportedly spent $84,000 on VA-branded promotional items, such as pens, notepads and hand sanitizer.

“VA certainly has the technology to conduct training by teleconference and use other methods in order to train staff and keep costs under control at the same time,” Wong said. “Our nation just passed $16 trillion in debt, and the budget deficit remains the biggest issue the federal government faces. Just like every American in this time of economic difficulty, the government needs to look for ways to control unnecessary spending.”

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and the committee’s ranking member, Bob Filner, D-Calif., jointly issued a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki demanding answers about the two Orlando conferences and spending on such conferences in general over the last three years. Click here to read the letter.

The lawmakers asked Shinseki to provide a detailed list of all VA conferences, their budgets and their costs between 2009 and 2011. The letter reported that VA Chief Financial Officer Todd Grams told Congress last year that “a little over $100 million” had been spent on VA conferences in 2011 when the lawmakers had been informed that only slightly more than $20 million was budgeted for 2011 and $22 million for 2012.

“The American Legion applauds the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee for its investigation into this issue,” Wong said. “Veterans are waiting for hospitals and for benefits decisions. VA has to remember its priorities.”

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