VA Spent Tens of Millions on Ad Campaigns, Audits, Green Energy

Spending part of $1 billion in contracts disbursed by administration for ‘professional services’

June 11, 2014

An analysis of more than $1 billion dollars in spending by the Department of Veterans Affairs on "professional services" finds several instances of questionable spending, including millions for a national ad campaign and energy programs to make VA facilities more sustainable.

The spending comes in light of the ongoing allegations of misconduct and an audit that revealed potentially fraudulent practices at 90 VA centers.

An analysis of records on the government’s official spending website shows the VA spent $1.3 billion in the past five years for "support" and "professional services." These contracts included millions of dollars for a campaign to put the VA in a positive light, lodging and training of employees, and energy programs to make VA facilities more sustainable.

A total of 10,171 contracts were awarded under the "professional service" code as the number of VA Medical Centers under investigation for unprofessional services and misconduct has continued to rise in recent weeks.

Records show several contracts awarded for two commercials that were part of the VA’s "National Messaging Campaign." In a series of 10 transactions, the VA awarded Woodpile Studios $5 million on 9/29/10, $1.7 million on 7/15/10, $1.7 million on 7/14/11 and another $1.8 million on 6/27/12 for the message campaign.

The commercials, which can be viewed here, ran in major cities during 2011 ESPN College bowl games and the Country Music Awards. They were designed to "increase awareness and confidence among the U.S. veteran population of the value and extent of VA services available to them." It urged "family members to send their warriors to the VA."

Another contract for $2.9 million was awarded in 2010 for "marketing and advertising" to another company.

A review of records also showed millions of dollars was spent on surveys during the past five years to ensure VA standards were met at state-owned and operated facilities. The Free Beacon found a $6.3 million contract awarded in 2011, another $5.9 million contract in 2013, and another $1.7 million contract in 2013, all of which were awarded to Ascellon Corp. during the past five years to conduct surveys to ensure compliance.

Two other additional contracts—one for $2.6 million completed in March 2013 and another for $5.3 million contract completed in September 2012—all focused on monitoring veteran’s facilities.

In total $18.1 million was awarded over the past five years to "conduct surveys at state owned and operated veteran’s homes to monitor compliance with VA Standards."

The Free Beacon also found numerous contracts for a "peer review" program to ensure quality management at VA facilities. That program was instituted as a result of a directive from the Veterans Health Administration in June 2010.

A sample of the contracts awarded for peer review during the past five fiscal years include one for $15.3 million, one for $11.7 million, another for $12.5 million, and still another for $12.2 million.

Other contracts awarded during the current administration under "office support/professional service" included millions spent on "energy program development."  Due to an executive order signed by Obama in October 2009, the VA is required to make its facilities more energy efficient and sustainable.

By 2020, the VA’s goal is to increase its renewable energy consumption to 20 percent; a total of 183 green energy projects were awarded for VA facilities across the country. One such contract was for a Washington D.C.-based VA facility for nearly $1 million.

One Free Beacon reader emailed us about a solar panel electric car charging station at the Grand Junction, Colorado VA facility installed for vets with electric cars that need charging.

It is unclear how many veterans who visit the Colorado facility have electric cars.

VA auditors have now flagged that facility in the wait time scandal.

The VA also spent $1 million on a conference in 2012 to highlight "innovations toward patient care," and $2.5 million on training employees and lodging as part of new employee training called the 8-week challenge.

The results of a VA audit "identified roughly 100,000 Veterans who are currently experiencing long wait times for receipt of their VA health care."

A recent report by the Washington Examiner highlighted a failed bid by Democratic senators last year to raise the agency’s budget by $20 billion even though the agency has millions in its budget left unspent each year.