Embattled Veterans Affairs spends $52,000 for joke videos

It turns out the General Services Administration isn’t the only government agency throwing opulent events on the taxpayer’s dime.

Expenditures at two conferences held in Orlando last year for Human Resources employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs totaled up to $9 million, according to an investigation by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Among these expenditures were $84,000 for branded promotional items, such as pens, $3,000 for two event photographers, and a whopping $52,000 to produce a pair of eight-minute videos spoofing the film “Patton” that were shown at the conferences. The videos, provided by the committee, are below.

But according to a letter sent by committee chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and ranking member Bob Filner (R-Calif.) to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki this week, this profligate spending may be the tip of the iceberg.

The congressmen cite committee testimony from VA Chief Financial Officer W. Todd Grams last year indicating that conference spending for Fiscal 2011 topped $100 million, despite a rough $20 million having been budgeted for such events.

“Mr. Secretary, it is essential that we be given factual information about VA’s conference spending,” Miller and Filner wrote. “If VA spent roughly $20 million on conferences in 2011 (as was relayed to the committee in February 2011), it raises questions about the propriety of HR conferences in Orlando consuming anywhere from 25 to 45 percent of VA’s entire conference budget for the year. If Mr. Grams’s $100 million figure from November 2011 is accurate, it raises questions of excessive conference spending in a tight fiscal climate.”

The letter petitions Shinseki for an itemized breakdown of conference costs for fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011, a description of what was budgeted for such events in 2012, and a budget estimate and breakdown of conferences planned for 2013.

The investigation comes as the VA battles a runaway backlog in veterans’ disability claims that has kept many veterans waiting a year or more to get disability benefits from service-related illnesses and injuries.