Thursday, July 29, 2010

VA can't account for $41.9 billion in tax payer monies

$9.1 billion is unaccounted for in Iraq reconstruction funds and it's considered news (via Google "all 524 news articles »") but $12 billion is missing from the VA for 2009 with the same amount expected to be missing for the latest fiscal year (over $40 billion for the last four years), according to W. Paul Kearns III, Chief Financial Officer, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and where's the press?

$24 billion missing for the current year and last year and where's the press? Twice yesterday, I heard House Veterans Affairs Committee members remark during the hearing that they wanted to get to the bottom of this before the press did. Apparently, they worried for no reason because where's the coverage?

Rick Maze (Air Force Times) covers it as usual but that's really it and where are our major news gathering organizations? In a good economy, billions missing should be news and the US doesn't have a good economy currently.

I'm grabbing from yesterday's "Iraq snapshot" and Kat's "The House Veterans Affairs Committee was pissed " and my notes taken during the hearing, FYI.

The first panel was the GAO's Susan Ragland accompanied by Glenn Slocum and they explained to the Committee the missing billions. Billions. They couldn't track it, they couldn't find it due to the VA's record keeping. Also discussed was the VA's decision to end a Congressional pilot program, the Financial and Logistics Integrated Technology Enterprise. What was the VA planning to replace it with? Ragland and the GAO didn't know because the VA refused to provide specifics, only generalities.

You might have thought your evening news would lead with a clip of this exchange (but they didn't):

Chair Bob Filner: If you had to give a grade between your initial report and now, what would you give?
Susan Ragland: Oh.
Chair Bob Filner: I'm a teacher, so.
Susan Ragland: Oh, I guess I'd say somewhere between a C+ or a B-. Somewhere in there.
Chair Bob Filner: Sounded like an F to me, but what do I know?

The GAO repeatedly outlines the problems and the VA refuses to address them. US House Rep Cliff Stearns established this with his line of questioning:

US House Rep Cliff Stearns: So they haven't used computers? They haven't use the internet?
Glenn Slocum: No-no, they do have -- they do have all that. But some of the reconciliations that they may need to do at year-end, uh, they have a MinX system which is used to, uhm, produce their year-end statements.
US House Rep Cliff Stearns: It's done manually then?
Glenn Slocum: It's not manually -- it's not totally manually. But there are, uh, reconciliations that take place that, in a better world, would be more automated. And it effects their inventory systems at pharmacies and that's what we're talking about.
US House Rep Cliff Stearns: In 2008, did you bring that to their attention with the same statement that they had outdated systems?
Glenn Slocum: Well -- well there are two reports. You know, there's one with miscellaneous obligation and I think that's the one that Ms. Ragland gave them a B- on. The other report dealt with the financial report deficiencies and those are the problems that have been around since 2000 or longer. And maybe there would be uh -- [looks at Ragland] maybe you would give them a lower grade on that? I'm not sure.
US House Rep Cliff Stearns: Okay, well then the statement says "a lack of sufficient personnel." Uhm, have you found that the personnel is one of the serious problems that they have? Personnel that either don't have the appropriate knowledge or skills or they just don't have the personnel?
Susan Ragland: That's been one of the independent public auditors' findings in the financial reports. And that's been over-over years.
US House Rep Cliff Stearns: Was that true in 2008? That same conclusion?
Susan Ragland: I'm not positive, I believe so.

The same conclusions over and over and the each year billions go missing. As Ranking Member Steve Buyer observed, "I mean, right now, you could look back and the last three or four [VA] Secretaries -- I mean, they have, since 2000, increased these directives without execution."

Maybe the press ignored the story because there was consensus on both sides of the aisle?

* US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick: "And Mr. Chairman, I share the sentiment of the other members of this Committee, that this is a very serious problem that we really need to stay on top of."

* Chair Bob Filner: "I would not underestimate the anger that my colleagues feel on this on both sides of the aisle."

The VA showed up for the second panel: The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Finance Edward Murray, the Chief Financial Officer W. Paul Kearns III and Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer Frederick Downs, Jr.

How much money is missing/unaccounted for? According to testimony from the VA to the Committee yesterday (specifically from Kearns):

2007: $6.9 billion
2008: $11 bilion
2009: $12 billion
2010: $12 billion*

2010 is an estimate from Kearns ("We're on track this year to be right at about the same level."). So add that up and the VA can't account for $41.9 billion.

$41.9 billion is missing/unaccounted for and that's not a story?

The Committee thought it was news. Not only did they worry about what the press would do with this story, they also showed the kind of support of one another -- from across aisles -- that Barack and others insist no longer exists. In addition to already quoted statements by Kilpatrick and Filner (both Democrats), the Chair (Bob Filner) and the Ranking Member (Steve Buyer) spoke of their determination to get legislation passed by the House and to the Senate before September, US House Rep David Roe (Republican) noted his agreement "with Congressman McNerney, my colleague" (McNerney is a Democrat) and when the VA tried to sidestep a question by US House Rep Jerry McNerney, Buyer stopped the VA's Edward Murray to state, "You've just said 'should be.' We're all getting really annoyed here. Please be responsive to the gentleman's question."

Murray acted (and sounded) as if he was close to tears throughout the questioning which may be whey Kearns lept in in the middle of McNerney's questioning.

But there was apparently no story there, nothing to see, because the press ignored the hearing. Cutbacks or not, if the press can't cover the VA's inability to account for $41.9 billion, you have to wonder exactly what sort of a watchdog role it presumes to play?

The closest any reporter gets to the hearing appears to be Lisa Rein's Washington Post report on female veterans which includes "Also Wednesday, Rep. Bob Filner (D-Ca.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, introduced legislation that would create a "bill of rights" for female veterans." In other veterans news, Katie Couric (CBS Evening News with Katie Couric) reports on an insurance company making money off deaths:

In nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, 5,620 Americans have died. Survivors of these fallen heroes are entitled to a life-insurance payment and the government uses a private company to handle it. What happened to the mother of 24-year-old Ryan Baumann of Great Mills, Maryland when she tried to collect serves as a lesson to every military family.
According to a Bloomberg Markets Magazine investigation, insurance companies have been profiting off of the death-benefits of fallen heroes.
"Ryan was a neat kid," said Cindy Lohman - Ryan's mother. "He really wanted to join the Army after 9/11 because he saw that, you know, there were things he could do."

The following community sites updated last night:

We'll close with the opening of Kenneth J. Theisen's "On Friday U.S. Conducts Afghan massacre - On Tuesday Congress Votes to fund more death" (World Can't Wait):

In the last few days, there have been several developments regarding the U.S. war of terror in Afghanistan. On Sunday, WikiLeaks released the Afghan War Diary which details some of the many crimes of the U.S. imperialists there in over 91,000 military reports. And on Monday, Afghan officials reported that 52 people were massacred in Rigi, Afghanistan in a Friday rocket attack launched against a house where women and children had taken shelter from fighting between NATO troops and Afghan insurgents.

Actually, from Adm Mike Mullen's Facebook page:

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff If you are a service member or veteran who was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss between Sept. 11, 2001, and September 30, 2009, you are eligible for Stop Loss Special Pay. Be sure to send in your claim form before the Oct. 21 deadline; the average benefit is $3,700. See for more informa...tion. If you know someone who may be eligible, tell a friend!

See More - The official website of the United States Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense, DoD, Defense, Defence, Military
20 hours ago · Comment ·
We'll try to lead with that in a morning entry tomorrow. My apologies because I'd thought we could do that today.

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thomas friedman is a great man

oh boy it never ends