Lawmaker sees ‘leadership void’ at VA

October 4, 2012

The chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said Wednesday that an inspector general’s report on Department of Veterans Affairs spending on conferences raises questions about its leadership’s ability to cope with problems faced by the people the agency serves.

“Disappointed is a polite word to describe my thoughts about this,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said at a joint hearing of the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees to consider legislative ­requests from the American Legion.

Miller said the conferences, which included what the VA ­Office of Inspector General ­described as up to $762,000 in unauthorized or wasteful spending, pointed to a “leadership void” at VA.

“Without strong leadership at VA, I am concerned that some of the best ideas we put forth will never realize their full potential,” Miller added. “VA is facing major obstacles — a backlog that continues to grow exponentially, a mental health-care crisis, bureaucracy, and now this latest report that VA employees went on a spending spree with veterans’ health-care funding.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs has said that the report’s findings “represent serious lapses in oversight, judgment, and stewardship” and that VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki has taken steps to address the problems through improved accountability.

Shinseki “has taken immediate action to address the issues outlined in the IG report to strengthen oversight, improve accountability, safeguard taxpayer dollars and help ensure such incidents do not occur again,” the VA statement said.

In their testimony, officials from the American Legion listed job creation and the reduction of the disability backlog as among the veterans’ organization’s top priorities.

“Veterans are tired of hearing how the government is working on ending a backlog that continues to grow,” said national commander James E. Koutz.

Verna Jones, director of veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation for the American Legion, told the committee that VA needs to improve services for female veterans. “We want VA to understand women are a big part of our military force and when we come home, we want to be cared for,” she said.

Steve Vogel is a reporter for the national staff of The Washington Post who covers the federal government and frequently writes about the military and veterans.
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