VA Spent $1.4 Billion in Stimulus Funds on Green Energy Projects, Cemeteries

Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs embroiled in wait time scandal

Phoenix VA Health Care Center
The Phoenix VA Health Care Center / AP
August 14, 2014

 The Department of Veteran’s Affairs spent nearly $1.5 billion on green energy projects, upgrading facilities, and fixing headstones at national cemeteries even as veterans were denied service due to lengthy wait times.

Records show the VA spent $1.4 billion in stimulus funds that it claimed would be spent on projects of the "most interest to veterans" across the country. The agency also received an additional $700 million in stimulus funds that made one-time payments of $250 to veterans.

However, a Washington Free Beacon review of the projects and the agency’s spending show that none of the funds were spent on the direct care for veterans under President Barack Obama’s signature economic recovery plan.

Investigations have showed the VA denied veterans care and some may have died as a result. Allegations of record tampering were also reported. A report this week also showed more than 1,000 veterans’ imaging tests went unread at another facility.

While the agency claimed the stimulus projects would lead to better care for veterans, the VA did not spend any of its stimulus funds to hire more doctors. Instead, records show the agency spent over $1 billion on upgrading facilities and nearly a half billion dollars on making the VA medical centers green energy sustainable.

A total of $1.08 billion was spent on non-recurring maintenance and energy projects. The agency allotted $399 million of its stimulus funds solely to enhance its green energy portfolio, and more than 940 green energy projects were undertaken.

As veterans waited for care, the VA upgraded waiting rooms, mechanical systems, and installed solar panels and wind turbines at hundreds of medical centers.

The agency also spent $50 million to fix tombstones and monuments at national cemeteries.

A sampling of the some of the facilities upgrades included $429,000 spent to "replace light fixtures" and "upgrade heating, ventilation, and air" in New York and $3.5 million to upgrade a fire alarm system in Florida. Another $3.8 million was spent to renovate a VA medical center in Tennessee and $3.8 million was spent on renovating a research lab also located in Tennessee. In Georgia, $2.6 million was spent to modernize a community living center.

The VA spent some of the stimulus funds at medical centers in the midst of the current controversy over VA wait times. For example, $1.1 million was spent at the Phoenix VA to "evaluate selected energy and water conservation measures."

The Phoenix VA center was at the center of the recent scandal. Administrators reportedly tampered with records and kept secret waiting lists. Several veterans died awaiting treatment.

The VA to its credit did try to tackle its widely reported claims backlog. A total of 1,500 temporary claims processors were hired at a cost of $150 million. While the backlog improved, it still exists today.

According to this week’s VA report, over 260,000 veterans have waited more than 125 days for a decision on their claim. Some have waited for over a year, and many said they are impacted financially as a result of the delay.

Records indicate the agency also spent $50 million on upgrading its information technology systems.

"Keep in mind that I have increased funding for the VA since I came into office by extraordinary amounts. But we also have extraordinary numbers of veterans coming home. And so the demand, even though we’ve increased the VA budget, is still higher than the resources that we’ve got. This bill helps to address that," Obama said when signing the VA fix bill last week that appropriates $16 billion more for the agency.

As previously reported, since Obama has taken office he has increased the VA discretionary budget by 35.2 percent since 2009. His agency also spent $500 million on conference room makeovers and office furniture purchases.