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Shows & Panels
Analysis: Fighting veteran homelessness takes more than money
Thursday - 11/10/2011, 6:27pm EST
By Michael O'Connell
Federal News Radio
The problems the Department of Veterans Affairs has with taking care of vets aren't because of a lack of money, according to one veterans advocacy group. VA can fix the operational problems that are preventing vets from getting what they're supposed to.
Although the VA is budgeted to receive $130 billion, tens of billions of dollars of that is squandered, Hampton said.
"We've gotten feedback from program directors and transitional directors of transitional facilities, homeless veterans," he said. "After you hear it 10 or 15 times, you say, well, maybe they have a case. After you hear it 40 or 50 times, you kind of start to believe it."
Hampton referenced Government Accountability Office reports that bureaucratic push back on paperwork, lack of competition in procurement and unprocessed claims for insurance are costing taxpayers an extra $10 billion to $20 billion.
What's lacking, Hampton said, is congressional oversight. As an example, he pointed to the case involving an inspector general in Boston who uncovered someone who had appropriated $200,000 through the procurement system. The incident prompted a subcommittee of veterans affairs to task the GAO to conduct a study of the procurement process at 16 centers across the country. The study revealed that 70 percent of the purchase orders at the centers didn't have a vendor's name on them. Also, there was virtually no competition in for the procurement. While the study revealed ways to say the government money, he said, in the end, there was no follow through.
"The politicians have just not made the veterans a top priority," Hampton said. "Our troops are a top priority. But when they come home, they're too often left behind and a lot of money is wasted."
Talking the day before Veterans Day, Hampton lamented the number of homeless veterans — 200,000 veterans living on the street, 10,000 of whom having served in war zones.
"We've got disability claims backed up for 800,000 veterans," he said. "We're spending tens of billions of dollars bailing out banks, but we're not taking care of our veterans. And the money that we're appropriating, we're not using wisely. It's just misplaced priorities."
The first thing that the White House could do to address this problem, according to Hampton, is to appoint a reformer to the position of assistant secretary for VA for management.
"The leadership of the VA is good," he said. "They work hard. It's the bureaucratic push back in the middle. We need to get a flamethrower in there, a reformer, who's going to knock heads together."