The Department of Veterans Affairs under President Obama has spent billions making improvements at VA centers across the country as veterans have waited months for care, in some cases dying before receiving treatment.
The VA’s budget has increased every year under the Obama administration. In its budget fact sheet for FY 2015, the administration pointed out that "total VA funding has grown in 2015 by nearly 68 percent from 2009."
Records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon suggest that the VA has not neglected its facilities.
A review of records available the official government spending website shows the VA spending $3.3 billion on facility upgrades and expansions between 2010 through 2015, the budgets for which the administration is responsible.
The nearly 12,000 contracts filed under the "construction/hospitals & infirmaries" code shows that the VA found funds for numerous projects, from building new facilities and parking lots to installing and upgrading light fixtures.
The cost and number of contracts issued for facility construction has ballooned under Obama. For the ten fiscal years prior to Obama’s taking office, a total of $2.2 billion was spent on a total number of 2,733 contracts issued under the same NAIC spending code. The fiscal years included in the review were from 2000 to 2009.
Since he took office, over 2,000 such contracts have been issued each year. By comparison, there were only 117 in 2000, 162 in 2003, and in 2008.
Records show that under Robert McDonald, the agency’s present secretary, who took over last July after the VA scandal broke, the agency continues to spend millions of dollars on its facilities.
A contract was signed last week for installing lighting at the Cincinnati, Ohio, VA facility. The cost for that project is $494,518. The contract states that nearly half a million dollars is for "install[ing] new LED lighting in parking garage and other areas at the VAMC Cincinnati, Oh."
Another contract shows $1.4 million is being spent to "construct/expand parking lot at the VA Medical Center located in Omaha, Ne." That contract was signed two weeks ago, and is expected to be completed in June.
Many earlier projects at VA centers across the country cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Orlando, Florida, VA Center underwent a "hospital build out" at a cost of $317 million. Numerous revisions to the project were made at the taxpayers’ expense. They included $626,000 for "all labor, materials, and equipment to incorporate the facility requested change to add data outlets to clean rooms, supply rooms, and storage rooms so that inventory can be tracked with hand held scanners."
$29,499 was spent at the Orlando center to "revise [a] door hold device," and another $21,566 was paid to change the color of a skylight. The Free Beacon could not locate the contract showing the cost of the skylight itself.
The Orlando VA Center was flagged for review after a report showed 890 veterans waiting more than 90 days for treatment.
The VA facility in San Juan, Puerto Rico, signed another contract for $52 million as part of a $400 million facility improvement under the Obama Administration. The VA announced the $400 million in facility improvements in a 2010 press release.
"As same-day treatment and diagnostic procedures increasingly become the forms of medical care most often needed for our veterans, it’s imperative that VA facilities meet the need with adequate space, the best technology and comfortable environments," said then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "We are pleased to reach a milestone toward transforming the San Juan VA Medical Center into a 21st Century health care facility."
The VA in Puerto Rico was flagged for review when it was found that 622 patients had been on its wait list for more than 90 days.
Contracts show that the VA in Puget Sound in Seattle spent tens of millions of dollars on its facility. One contract for more than $30 million was signed on October 10, 2012. It describes the work as "construction to correct seismic deficiencies, Bldg. 100 Nursing Tower and Community Living Center, Project NO. 663-406, Va Puget Sound Healthcare System, Seattle Division."
The VA at Puget Sound is another facility that was flagged for review, as it had 105 veterans on its wait list for 90 days.
Another costly project is at the VA’s Palo Alto, California, location. A contract was signed for $98.7 million in 2011 for "capital improvement," and the complete transaction shows that project ultimately cost $106 million.
The VA in St. Louis, Missouri, is currently undergoing a $106 million renovation for its "Clinic and Tenant Bldg, Jefferson Barracks, St Louis MO" according to its contract. It was signed on July 5, 2014, and the project is expected to be completed in 2017.
In Aurora, the Denver VA Center was expected to spend $580 million on its new hospital. That number has risen to more than $1 billion, and the VA is investigating the project. The project has been plagued with costly overruns and is still not complete. The VA announced in January that the Army Corp of Engineers is stepping in to help with the project, indicating "the situation in Denver is unacceptable to Veterans, taxpayers, and Department leadership."
President Obama’s 2016 budget request for the VA seeks an increase of 7.5 percent over 2015’s budget.